Being on top of the game doesn’t just require the best gear and right training but it’s also about being prepared inside out. It is incorrect to think that nutrition aimed at enhancing performance on the athletic field is only the prerogative of professional athletes. Whether your kids are competitive athletes or weekend warriors, athletic performance is at its best only with the right nutrition.
Successful sports training and stellar performance come with adequate calorie intake to support energy expenditure and maintain strength, endurance, muscle mass and overall health. Briefly, nutrients that are important for your little athlete are iron, calcium, potassium, high glycemic carbs, and protein.
Why is nutrition important?
The muscle needs food to exercise. So it first uses its own store of glucose (called glycogen) followed by the liver’s store. However, when the sport requires repeated bursts of energy or energy over an extended period of time, the glycogen stores run out. This results in muscle fatigue (commonly called “hitting the wall”) and the athletes either have to stop or drastically reduce the pace.
Therefore, a pre-exercise meal is of utmost importance as it helps prevent the young sportsman from going hungry during the exercise bout and also maintains the blood glucose levels for the muscle to keep recharging itself through the activity.
So, the key to stamina and endurance is to include carbohydrates which release glucose slowly and therefore last over the entire exercise period. So is a glass of milk, a banana or a fistful of dry fruits enough? Not really!
Food choices should be high in complex carbohydrate (high-glycemic), low in fat and moderate in protein. Make sure to fuel your child with a fiber rich mixed millet milk porridge sweetened with jaggery or date syrup or a couple of oat idlis with a glass of milk.
Even a boiled potato whole wheat sandwich with a glass of milk can do wonders for your child’s game. Make sure to avoid high-fat foods as they may cause stomach discomfort.
During exercise, hydration is the mantra. In the absence of thirst, experts recommend that kids drink water or other fluids before beginning their activity and every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity.
Coconut water, diluted juices, lemon juice, watermelon juice are superb choices. Sugary drinks and carbonated drinks are a strict no-no.
Last but not the least – nutrition post-exercise. Experts recommend that you feed your child carbs within 30 minutes after intense activity and again 2 hours later. Refueling with ample carbohydrates and moderate protein means you’re on the right track. But most of us take the wrong step here. Carbohydrates don’t equate to glucose alone, so loading up on glucose tablets or reaching out for off the shelf juices post exercise can harm the pancreas in the long run. This is because it is overworked in producing loads of insulin to deal with the glucose glut.
Ideal food would be high-glycemic foods like millets, brown rice and lean meat, boiled chicken or whole pulses along with some fat like butter, ghee. It’s important that the post-activity meal be a balance of protein, carbs, and fat.
Understanding young athlete’s nutrition requirement is quite tricky. So keep these tit-bits in mind and do reach out for professional help in managing their nutrition as it is very important in determining the course of their health and the game!