In today’s world, youth athletes are extremely busy individuals. Many are juggling school, volunteer opportunities, part time jobs, club sports, school sports, and extracurricular activities. Progressing through the day while meeting these obligations can be overwhelming, and as such, food and nutrition can often be overlooked. As youth athletes develop, nutrition plays a vital role in growth and maturation, supplying energy for sporting activities and for leading active and healthy lifestyles. Understanding nutrition is fundamental to being successful in these areas and implementing good nutritional habits is a skill that will serve them well into their adult years. To begin our journey into fuelling the youth athlete, here are 5 important reasons why youth athletes should learn about food and nutrition.
- Nutrition Provides Energy to Learn, Play and Grow
Children and adolescents need proper nutrition to learn, grow and play. Fuelling the youth athlete requires more energy and nutrients than the average child as they are simply moving more often. Carbohydrates – one of the three macronutrients – is the body’s main and preferred source of energy. Learning about nutrition can help the athlete and parent choose good sources of carbohydrates and adjust the levels to provide them with enough energy throughout the day.
- Recovery Snacks Support Training Adaptation
Have you ever had periods of training where you felt you were not improving? This may be because you were not supporting your training with adequate nutrition. Protein – another one of the three macronutrients – is the building block for your body. The training is the stimulus, but the body needs protein and energy to help rebuild muscle and learn from the training session. Training adaptations occur best with good nutrition and quality sleep. Thus, athletes are encouraged to practice recovery strategies to maximize their training outcomes.
- Prevent Some Injuries and Illnesses Common to Athletes
As mentioned before, athletes have increased needs than other children, putting them at risk for injury, illness and missed menstrual cycles. When the growing body does not have enough energy to learn, play and grow, the body will steal energy for other systems. The immune system, the reproductive system and bone are areas the body may weaken to give athletes that energy to play. This is called Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S).
- Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food
Often athletes feel pressure to be thin, light or have a certain body shape to be successful. This pressure may come from coaches, family, friends, and media. This sometimes leads to disordered eating or eating disorders. Learning about food and nutrition from a trusted professional can help young people develop a positive relationship with both food and their bodies.
- Food Literacy for Life
Every person needs food and at some point, they will be responsible for preparing meals for themselves and their families. Therefore, it is important that young athletes learn the fundamentals of food and develop food literacy skills. This way, when they are independent young adults, they can support themselves and nourish their bodies adequately to meet their sporting and life demands
Where can young athletes learn about food and nutrition?
Well, if you’re reading this article, you’re on the right track! The goal of Novanta Sports Performance Nutrition articles is to provide young athletes and their families with evidence-based and accessible nutrition information to assist in the development of good nutritional habits. Our goal is to provide our youth athletes with tools they can use to support their athletic endeavours but also create habits that will improve their overall health and wellbeing.
Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J. K., Burke, L. M., Ackerman, K. E., Blauwet, C., Constantini, N. (2018). IOC consensus statement on relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S): 2018 update. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(11), 687-697. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099193
Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501–528.
Unlock Food (2019). Sports nutrition: facts on carbohydrates, protein and fat. Retrieved from, https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Physical-Activity/Sports-Nutrition-Facts-on-Carbohydrate,-Fat-and-P.aspx