Here’s the conclusion of the “Top 10 Questions Asked About Sports Nutrition!”
6) What is the best way for Young Athletes to gain lean muscle mass?
I have been asked this specific questions many, many times. “My son/daughter needs to gain 5-10 lbs. of muscle.” Do not underestimate the strength and agility a “thin” athlete can have, and how this is beneficial in some sports. With that said, there are safe ways of increasing lean muscle mass, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends focusing on core strength before puberty.
The keys to safe and effective muscle/weight gain are 1) increased calories, 2) adequate protein intake and 3) resistance training
- Eat Frequently and Consistently- increase calories by 300-400 calories per day. Do NOT skip meals! Young athletes should eat every 3-4 hours, 3 meals and 3-4 snacks every day.
Select HEALTHY High Calorie Foods- enjoy nuts, nut butters, avocados, and olive oil. Switch to 2% milk.
- Adequate amount of protein at the right times- I’ve written about protein in sports before; right amount and right timing are key. Young athletes do need slightly more protein than regular teens, approximately 1 gram of protein for every 2 pounds of body weight. However, protein should be eaten in small amounts, no more than 20-25 grams at a time. ALWAYS include some protein before and after exercise.
- Strength Training- lifting weights and doing push ups are important when talking about weight gain in young athletes. Exercise programs should always be under the supervision of a coach, trainer or other qualified adults. Sets of 8-15 repetitions are ideal for muscle growth, and sets of 4-6 reps develop strength and power.
- Don’t Forget to Rest!- It’s not only important to rest between intense workouts (24-48 hours), but also make sure you sleep enough! Sleep is the time when muscle fibers rebuild and repair; 8-10 hours a night is ideal.
7) Is it OK to eat sports/nutrition bars? Which ones are best?
Good question. My opinion is that no shake, powder or bar can substitute the nutritional benefits of whole food. However, nutrition bars have come a long way and offer much needed convenience for those busy times.
Here are a few tips:
- Read the Ingredients on the Label…can you even pronounce them?
Stay away from bars with complicated, long lists of ingredients, stick to whole food bars.
- Choose the protein source carefully!
Choose bars with high quality protein, like hydrolyzed whey, or for those avoiding dairy or looking for plant based proteins, look for hemp or pea protein, both excellent sources of good quality protein. Avoid soy protein isolate: artificially extracting soy protein isolate makes it highly processed and eliminates some of the health-promoting qualities and can actually act as a hormone disruptor in the body. Some bars use only nuts and seeds as their source of protein…winner!!!
- Look for Natural Sweeteners and avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
This one is also a biggie because some of these “healthy” bars can contain more sugar than a Hershey bar! Again, avoid HFCS (in any food); it is a sign of a poor quality product. Instead, look for bars that use raisins, dates or other dried fruits to sweeten up the bar. It’s OK to have some natural sugar, especially after a workout, when the body needs to replenish depleted glycogen.
- Avoid processed oils; corn, soy, and canola
A “healthy” nutrition bar should have NO corn, soy, canola or any kind of hydrogenated oil. Healthy fat sources to look for include those that come from natural ingredients like coconut, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds.
8) What should a young athlete eat BEFORE games or practices?
- Rules of Pre-Game Eating:
- If you only have 1-2 hours before your game/practice, do NOT eat a full meal!
- 65%-75% of the calories should come from carbohydrates
- Snacks should be 100-300 calories, depending on how big your last meal was.
- Do NOT try new foods on competition day! Try them during practice and see how you feel.
- Don’t forget about the fluids! Start hydrating a few hours before competition or practice.
Foods to AVOID: candy, tea/coffee, fried foods, high fat meats, fruit-flavored drinks, soda
9) What should athletes eat AFTER playing sports?
Immediately after exercise, our bodies can produce and store glycogen 1 ½ times faster than any other time of the day. So why not take advantage of it?! This period of 15-30 minutes after exercise is known as the “golden window.” The post-exercise snack should be followed by a balanced meal within 2 hours of play.
Experts agree the best combination of nutrients for glycogen production has a ratio of anywhere between 3:1 to 5:1 carbohydrates to protein.
Post Game Snack Ideas: Keep it simple!
- Examples of great post-game snacks
Whole wheat bagels and cream cheese
Crackers, cheese and grapes
Bread, nut butter (if allowed), banana
Fruit salad or kabobs and yogurt or string cheese
Yogurt, fruit and granola
Fruit smoothie (I freeze them into “popsicles”)
10) How much rest does a young athlete need?
Rest is essential for all young athletes, not only are they training hard but their bodies are growing and developing. The National Sleep Foundation reports that even though children and teens ages 10-17 should sleep 8.5-9.25 hours/night, the average adolescent sleeps 7-7.25 hours/night.
- What can a Young Athlete Do to Improve His/Her Sleeping Habits?
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Wake up at the same time on the weekends as you do weekdays.
- Eat a larger meal at night, but make sure it’s at least three hours before bedtime.
- Make your room a sleep haven! Keep it cool, quiet and dark. If you need to, get eyeshades ( I absolutely LOVE mine!) or blackout curtains.
- Develop healthy ways to manage stress (go to a movie, exercise, do yoga).
- Try to exercise earlier in the day, no later than four hours before bedtime.
- Nap if feeling drowsy, but for no longer than 30 minutes.
Good luck to you all and have fun this summer!