What is THE most important meal for a young athlete? Is it the meal before a game? The night before? I get asked these questions repeatedly during my team talks, so I thought I would clarify things for everyone. They’re ALL important! In my mind, one of the most important points to remember and to make young athletes understand is that Consistency is KEY! But what does “being consistent” mean?
- Young athletes are NOT like regular kids. They need more calories. They need better quality foods. Their bodies are like expensive race cars. You only fill it up with the best quality fuel. And you NEVER let it run on empty. You can’t put in the cheap gas all week and expect one tank of premium to do the trick. The same applies to young athletes. They need to eat a lot, and they need to eat well. And they need to be CONSISTENT. Are we following so far?
- The reason consistency is SO important in sports nutrition can be summed up in one word: GLYCOGEN. Glycogen is the most important form of stored energy in our bodies. It is stored in the liver and muscle and it prevents athletes from “running out of gas” or “hitting the wall.” Glycogen gives our bodies energy to last for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of intense exercise. This means it must be replenished often!
- Glycogen stored today will be used by the body in 2-3 days! This is why having adequate glycogen stores at all times is essential. In real life, what this means is that the snack or meal an athlete eats after practice today will help replenish glycogen to be used in the game one or two days from now. Unfortunately, there’s no “I can eat junk all week and then eat a healthy carb dinner the night before a game.” (This is what I used to get from athletes before I explained how body energy sources actually work, sorry guys!).
- Don’t forget about the importance of the Post-Game Snack! We discussed the details in a previous Blog, The Post-Game Snack Immediately after exercise, the body can produce glycogen almost 2 times faster than at any other time, so take advantage of this “golden window!” Make sure your athlete has plenty of healthy post game snacks and meals!
- Don’t Forget About the FLUIDS! It’s like running the expensive sports car with premium gas but no oil! Just doesn’t work! Young athletes must drink plenty of fluids, and drink consistently! Hydration blog and video coming soon!
- The bottom line is this: THE TRAINING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAT THE PRE-GAME MEAL! Say it again with me…THE TRAINING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PRE-GAME MEAL! Because the food an athlete eats today will fuel their body in a couple of days, it is important to watch what they eat the entire season. The “pre-game meal” will just top off the tank.
So next time your young athlete says, “mom (or dad), my game is not for another 2-3 days,” make sure they understand fueling properly and consistently will lead them to success!