Eat to Win, Sleep to Win: 8 Nutrition & Sleep Tips to Help Young Athletes Achieve Their Best Sports Performance by Dr. Lynn Gettleman-Chehab
As a pediatrician and specialist in metabolic health, I am always asked about what children should eat around sports practices and tournaments. Here are some tips for your student athlete:
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Dehydration impairs sports performance, and most high school athletes arrive to games and practices with inadequate hydration. This can lead to cramping, heat illness and heat stroke.
- Aim for at least 32 ounces of water during the three hours before practices/games, of which 16 ounces should be in the hour before practices/game.
- Drink 10 to 12 ounces during water breaks.
- Try for at least 32 ounces within a couple of hours after practice, more for hard sweaty workouts.
If your child’s urine is the color of apple juice or darker, they are not adequately hydrated.
2. Most of the Time Water Is Just Fine
Sports drinks are the exception, not the rule, and should be reserved for hard practices over 90 minutes, practices in extreme heat, when one is unable to drink at least 20 ounces within three hours before a practice/game, or during tournaments/meets where there is not enough time to drink 32 ounces of water between games/sets/etc.
3. Eat Three Winning Meals a Day
Half the plate should be vegetables, one-fourth carbs (the less processed the better) and one-fourth protein. Here are some examples:
- pasta with chicken and salad
- burrito or burrito bowl with veggies and meat
- meat and veggie sandwich on whole-grain bread
- egg with whole-grain toast
- banana with steel cut oats and nuts and berries
- avocado toast
Avoid just a bagel or sugary cereal before an early morning practice or game – add protein!
One hour before a game, kids need easily digestible food for quick energy, especially if the student athlete has not eaten since lunch and they have practice right after school. Good choices include real fruit (banana, clementine, etc.), apple squeezes (easy to throw in a backpack), carrots, pretzels, granola bars, trail mix.
Athletes need protein and carbs to replenish muscles ideally within 30 minutes after the workout ends. This might mean having a high-protein snack in the backpack to eat on the way home. Good refuel foods include trail mix, Kind bars, nuts and fruit, peanut butter and banana sandwich, cheese sticks, yogurt (just watch ones for high sugar) and protein bars. And if the refuel food is a meal, have a winning plate as mentioned above.
When there is little time between events, the athlete needs easily digestible foods like bananas, banana chips, raisins, apple squeezes, pretzels, orange slices, and don’t forget to hydrate! Most concession stand food is greasy and heavy, so bringing sandwiches with some veggies are always a better option than pizza or hot dogs. Again, aim for a grain, produce and protein.
7. Sleep Is a Secret Weapon
Muscle repair, muscle growth and memory consolidation all happen during sleep. Better sleep leads to better reaction time (and better memory, mood and grades!). Lebron James and Tom Brady prioritize sleep. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald began prioritizing sleep schedules in 2013, and NU won more games!
8. How to Get a Good Night's Sleep
- Aim for at least eight hours.
- Turn off electronics an hour before sleep and put phones in a different room.
- Make bedrooms cool and dark.
- Set and keep a sleep schedule that does not vary by more than an hour on weekends.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks.
- Plan for early practices/games. It takes three days to make up for lost sleep.
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