4 Nutrition Tips for the Student Athlete

For many youths, back to school means back to sports. Nutrition plays a key role in athletic performance and recovery, yet many student athletes show up to practice dehydrated and undernourished. Here are 4 tips to make sure your student athlete gets top-notch nutrition.

Hydrate Every Hour

Dehydration can affect athletic performance and put athletes at risk of heat injury. Preventing dehydration starts with drinking consistently throughout the day.

Water should be the main go-to for hydration. Sports drinks containing energy from carbohydrates and electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, are appropriate when intense physical activity will extend beyond one hour.

White and chocolate milk are also smart ways to help young athletes meet their fluid needs. Milk contains 13 essential nutrients the body needs, including protein to build and repair muscle tissue, calcium, and vitamin D to build and maintain strong bones, and potassium to regulate body fluid balance and normal muscle function.

Power Up with Protein

Protein is essential to support growth and build and repair muscle in active bodies. Student athletes should incorporate protein foods into both meals and snacks. Athletes should be aware of lean protein choices and select them over frequently consumed burgers, bacon, sausages, and fried foods.

Examples of lean protein include:

  • Grilled chicken or fish
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt
  • Roasted turkey
  • Cottage cheese
  • Beans, peas, and lentils

Carbohydrates are Crucial

Carbohydrates are the key fuel source needed during intense physical activity and there are two types–simple and complex. When a game or practice is going to extend beyond an hour and it’s less than 2 hours until game time, simple carbohydrates are crucial so they can be quickly utilized for energy. Some examples include a small bag of pretzels, a banana, or a 4 oz container of yogurt. At all other times, young athletes will benefit from nourishing sources of complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.  

Recover and Repeat

It takes time to replenish fluids, electrolytes, and energy stores lost during intense physical activity. The best practice is to have a mini-meal or snack within 1 hour and a full and balanced meal within 2-3 hours after the intense effort is over. With its affordable combination of lean protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid, chocolate milk is a great after practice or game beverage.

If you have a young athlete and are looking for more individualized sport nutrition recommendations, work with a registered dietitian to create a game plan and ensure your athlete gets the nutrients they need to excel on and off the field.