Football season may be behind us, but high school athletes will still be on the fields and courts with basketball, soccer, track, baseball, and softball. Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital believes it is important for teen athletes to engage in proper nutrition practices and wants to help spread the word with tips and helpful hints.
What You Eat Matters
A healthy diet is essential to meet an athletic teen’s energy needs. “Teens with a higher level of activity need the right combination and amount of food to perform at their best levels,” explains Todd Hamel, MD, FAAFP, family medicine physician on the medical staff at Cy-Fair Hospital.
Game-day meal content and timing can directly impact a young athlete’s performance on the field. “A full stomach requires energy to digest, so it is important to stop eating two hours before activity in order to save energy levels for the event,” says Dr. Hamel. “Although high-fiber foods are nutritious, they also may cause stomach upset and should not be eaten before activity. High-fat foods take longer to digest and should also be avoided up to three hours before a game or event.” Instead, teens should eat an ample amount of carbohydrates, found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with a moderate amount of proteins, such as those found in meat, eggs and dairy.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Fluids are critical in preventing dehydration during activity which can lead to symptoms including severe muscle cramping. Thus, the proper fluids should be consumed before, during, and after exercise. “Early hydration is key. Athletes should drink water or other appropriate fluids as directed by their physician or team trainer up to several hours before physical activity and especially on days they will be participating in games or contests,” encourages Dr. Hamel. “Fluids should continue to be consumed in 15 – 20 minute intervals during activity as well as afterwards to replenish fluid levels lost through sweat.” The body depletes its readily available energy supply after one hour of exercise, so sports drinks are a good option for athletes that are active for 60 – 90 minutes. These drinks also help replenish the electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, lost through sweat. “All drinks with electrolytes are not created equal,” warns Dr. Hamel. “Talk with your doctor or trainer to identify the proper solution for your needs.”
But what if your teen is feeling tired and wants to boost their energy level? “Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular, especially among teens and young adults,” says Dr. Hamel. “These drinks often have large amounts of sugar and caffeine, sometimes more than twice as much as a cup of coffee or soda, and are not recommended.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually limits the amount of caffeine for cola-type drinks to 71 milligrams in a 12-ounce serving. However, the FDA does not place these restrictions on energy drinks. “Quickly drinking an energy drink just before exercise isn’t a good idea. The high levels of caffeine and sugar may cause a number of symptoms and have sometimes led to dehydration requiring medical attention,” warns Dr. Hamel. “The best way to feel energized each day is to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and get a good night’s sleep.”
Get Your Vitamins
For optimal performance, young athletes need a variety of vitamins, protein and carbohydrates. The food guide pyramid is a good source of information for the types of food and drinks a well-balanced diet requires. Even during off-season, it is important for teens to maintain a balanced to create a solid foundation for game season. Athletic teens need calcium and iron in their diets to build strong bones and sustain energy. These nutrients can be found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables, meat, dried beans and fortified cereals. “A diet deficient of essential vitamins and minerals can lead to symptoms that may be mistaken for other medical conditions,” says Dr. Hamel. “If an athlete or athlete’s parent suspects there may be a vitamin or mineral deficiency in their child, there is specialized testing available to help identify the cause.”
Too Much Pressure
Many teens participate in sports that place a heavy emphasis on appearance and weight. This can cause pressure and potentially an unhealthy obsession with weight gain or reduction. “It is usually not a good idea for teens to diet because athletic teens need the additional calories to sustain high energy levels for activity,” explains Dr. Hamel. “Dieting also can prevent a teen who is still growing from reaching his or her intended height.” Unhealthy eating habits can cause serious repercussions that could last a lifetime, so parents should discuss diet options with a doctor or nutritionist if a coach recommends that a teen lose weight.
For more information on helping your teen athlete lead a healthy life, call 800-681-2733.