Now that you know how the body uses food as fuel, it’s time to take a closer look at how to use the food they eat to power growth, health & performance. No matter who they are, eating the right food and eating it at the right times can make a big difference.
Whatever the goals, the following nutritional guidelines are the basics for helping them.
Eating Regular Meals
Don’t skip meals, and especially don’t pass on breakfast. If your athlete skips breakfast their afternoon performance can decline up to 5%! Growing athletes need a lot of fuel and by skipping a meal time it is very difficult to consume the appropriate amounts of energy to grow and perform optimally.
Next, if your athlete struggles with this meal time remember breakfast can last for three hours by sipping and nibbling. Breakfast can extend way past the door. You can do this for any meal or snack time if struggling to eat enough.
The best way to keep their engine going the way it should is to eat every two to four hours. This gives the body a constant stream of energy throughout the day. It also helps prevent the ups and downs in energy they might get, especially in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. The goal for this age group is to eat five to seven times a day, roughly every two to four hours pending on how much energy they need daily. This can be three large meals and two to three snacks or if the energy need is high enough three large meals and two to three smaller meals!
By eating frequently, their body is able to process and assimilate the nutrients more efficiently, which leads to more fuel being burned.
Make sure they are taking in enough optimal energy. Many believe that less is better, but if they don’t take in enough energy, they can slow down growth, impact bone density and burn muscle instead of fat. When it comes to fuel intake the body goes by fuel in and fuel out. Fuel equals calories. Food equals calories (input). What the body burns to stay alive equals calories (known as metabolism or output). If the body recognizes the fuel burned is way more than what is coming in on a continuing basis then it thinks your athlete is in danger. It starts to go into survival mode. It slows down metabolism, makes that athlete not as hungry and can use muscle as energy if needed. Muscles require more fuel to work, so the more muscle and lean weight they have, the more energy they need.
I’ve talked to many athletes, both clients and not, who believe that they don’t have to eat very much. Here’s why. Athletes tend to believe that they need only a certain amount of energy to function every day. However, instead of calculating what their energy needs are, they seemingly pluck a number out of the air. Unfortunately, this number is often way too low and does not match the energy needs of a growing athlete.
What they eat, when & how much matter 100%! Just eating all healthy or all high calorie foods may not maximize their health & performance potential. Each food group has nutrients needed to complete the full puzzle and when they eat them can impact the optimization of each stage.
Balance their Macronutrients
Eat a mix of foods at each meal. Always try to have a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This will ensure you get the nutrients they need and also get a constant amount of energy. Carbohydrates tend to be absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than protein and fat, and certain kinds of carbohydrates are absorbed faster than others. My mixing your foods—eating faster-absorbing foods with foods that don’t get into the bloodstream as fast—you can create a more constant energy stream. Having this constant stream of energy also helps decrease body fat. Plus, when they eat a mixture of foods, they get a variety of important nutrients.
Fiber is essential
Fiber from foods is critical for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients consumed. It impacts everything in our bodies even our brains. The digestive system is even known as the second brain so its overall health is imperative to how your athlete functions. The quick rule of thumb is one gram of fiber per one hundred units of energy. For example: 2100 units of energy require 21g of fiber minimally consumed a day. Some fiber examples are from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts or seeds.
Saturated, meaning they carry as many hydrogen atoms as chemically possible. These fats are the most dangerous kind and are the leading contributor to high blood cholesterol and heart disease. They are solid at room temperature and primarily come
from animal sources.
Monounsaturated. These fats contain one double-coupled carbon chain, which simply means that they’re not completely saturated with hydrogen atoms. Studies have shown that monounsaturated fats can help lower blood and cholesterol. They are liquid at room temperature and come from plant sources. Polyunsaturated. Fats in this category have two are more double carbon bonds,
which means they are even less saturated than monounsaturated fats. Fats in this category – especially those found in fish – have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. They, too, are liquid at room temperature.
Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
The government recommends a total of five fruits and vegetables a day for most people, but a much better intake level is four of each every day. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, fiber, water, and energy. The nutrients in fruits and vegetables can help with wound recovery, and help
prevent oxidative stress, which damages cells, vessel walls, and even the nucleus of a cell. This is important for preventing flu, colds, and other ailments, and for recovering from workouts.
Minimizing Empty Calories
It isn’t called junk food for nothing! Chips, candy, sweets, fast food, fried food, and processed food are generally high in calories and/or fat, and low in nutrients. Most Americans consume at least
two of these items a day, if not more. Home-cooked, wholesome meals are becoming a thing of the past unless we do something about it.
Keep Track of Your Intake
Unless your memory is really good, it’s difficult to remember everything you eat. When you’re eating for optimal nutrition, it’s important that you keep a daily food record. Turn to Chapter 4 for more on this, as well as a chart to assist your tracking efforts.
Watch Portion Sizes
One of the reasons obesity is on the rise is that our portion sizes are as well. What’s more, it’s not just our fast-food habits that are increasing our need for bigger belts. Researchers have found an astonishing amount of portion distortion going on in the home as well. After too many years of gulping down gargantuan soft drinks and supersized meals, many people simply don’t know what normal portion sizes look like.
Now, we know how much a pain it is to have to measure our out portions. No one likes to do it, which is why people who follow diets that require him or her to measure out everything they eat usually fail at them. Some dietitians now teach their clients to learn how to judge portion sizes visually by comparing a standard portion to an every-day object. While it’s not as exact as using measuring spoons, cups, and scales, it’s a heck of a lot easier.
Here are some examples:
A deck of cards = 3 ounces of meat or a small chicken breast
Four dice = 1 ounce of cubed hard cheese
A clenched fist = ½ cup of pasta
A baseball = 1 cup of raw vegetables
Another good way to rein in your portion sizes is to measure your food for one week. Don’t
change the portions you would normally eat, just load them into measuring cups or spoons before you eat them. Keep a running record as you do on a notepad or index card. Total everything at the end of each day or at the end of the week and then compare the number of portions you’ve eaten to therecommended amounts.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of proper hydration, and it’s not just athletes who
need to ensure that their bodies contain enough fluid. Our body weight is composed of 40 to 70 percent water. Every reaction that happens in the body involves water in one-way or another. Muscle building, muscle breakdown, and muscle contraction are all affected by the levels of water within the body.
Adequate hydration is essential for everyone, and it’s especially important if you’re active. If
you’re working out hard, you’re going to perspire. Sweat a lot and you’ll lose a lot of weight as well. For every pound of weight you lose when working out, you need 16 ounces of fluid to begin the rehydration process. Early fatigue is a sign of dehydration, and thirst is not a good indicator of fluid needs, as the sensation doesn’t kick in until you’re already dehydrated. People who work out, and athletes especially.