It’s March Madness: Why Food Matters to Athletic Performance
What makes one youth athlete good and another GREAT?
Of course motivation and innate ability have a role, but studies show diet is a key component of athletic greatness. Dietary strategies to enhance athletic performance include optimizing intakes of macronutrients, micronutrients, and fluids, including their composition and spacing throughout the day. But when does your child need each of the following types of foods?
Consuming carbs improves performance in events lasting about 1 hour. The key is maximizing glycogen stores to increase athletic performance by delayed onset of fatigue (20% delay) and performance improvements of 2-3%. This means ensuring extra carbohydrates are consumed in the 36-48 hours prior to exercise. Even if consumed during or just after exercise, carbohydrates still help maintain high levels of carbohydrate oxidation, prevent hypoglycemia, and have a positive effect on the central nervous system. Whole grain pastas are an excellent choice for pre-game meals. Consider a hearty, made from scratch Spaghetti & Meatballs lunch or dinner the day before the big game.
Studies have shown that adding protein during exercise produces no benefits in terms of increased performance. Save the protein for before and after exercise, as that is when the body utilizes them most efficiently to enhance rates of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). The benefits of protein intake throughout the day following exercise are well recognized. A Sunbutter & Jelly sandwich on whole grain bread is a go-to favorite for an easy, high-protein snack.
Athletes should aim to maintain adequate levels of hydration, and they should minimize fluid losses during exercise to no more than 2% of their body weight. There is debate over whether it is important to hydrate during exercise, as that can lead to feelings of fullness and urination, both of which can impair performance. The purpose of fluid consumption during exercise is primarily to maintain hydration and thermoregulation. Studies show that dehydration negatively affects performance, so make sure your young athlete has plenty of H20 and electrolytes both before, during, and after exercise.
The importance of daily, individualized dietary advice is increasingly recognized, especially as it relates to before, during, and after training or competition. But unless you have access to a private nutrition coach, your child is likely not receiving this daily advice.
WT Café is here to help you navigate those sometimes murky nutrition waters. Look for our YOUTH ATHLETE icon that we created to help you find fresh meals that fit the nutritional needs of your active child, and read more about our Sports Nutrition Guidelines.