The Complete Guide to Nutrition for Young Athletes

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There is an overwhelming amount of information out there on proper nutrition for young athletes. So much so, in fact, that many nutrition guidelines now seem somewhat contradictory. How is youth athlete or a parent supposed to decipher through all this information?

We like to keep things as simple as possible for our athletes, parents and coaches. Our rules of thumb when it comes to nutrition for young athletes are as follows:

Nutrients

Nutrients are the components of food that our body needs to grow, fight disease and provide energy to support all the body systems, organs and functions that keep your body healthy and strong. The body gets most of its nutrients from food. Foods that are high in nutrients are often called “nutrient-dense” foods. These are foods like vegetables and fruits.  

Whole natural foods that come from the five food groups supply the body with the nutrients it needs. Other foods are low in nutrients and only supply energy to the body. Energy that is not used is stored as fat. These are foods high in sugar and/or fat but have very little, if any, other nutrition for young athletes. These are foods like cake, candy, soda, and chips. Nutrients can be divided into several categories:

  • Macronutrients: Food is made up of macronutrients. Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fat. Every food is made up some or all of these three macronutrients.  They are called macronutrients because the body needs large amounts of this to live. This is the main source of energy. Each of these macronutrients can be broken down by the body to energy to perform the millions of actions the body performs every day to live.  When the body has more macronutrients than it needs, it will store it as fat tissue.
  • Micronutrients: Micronutrients can be broken up into vitamin and minerals. These are essential for the body to function properly. They are referred to as micronutrients because the body only needs a small amount of them (micrograms and milligrams).
  • Vitamins: Vitamins are substances that the body needs to function properly. The body gets most of its vitamins from food because although the body can make some vitamins, it cannot make the amount it needs. Athletes may not be getting enough of all the vitamins the body needs if they are not eating a well-balanced diet rich in nutrient dense foods. There are other reasons for vitamin deficiencies, always consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
  • Minerals: Minerals are inorganic elements which are used by the body to make tissues, cells, support enzyme functions, and balance the water and electrochemicals throughout the body. The body cannot make minerals but only needs a very small amount to function. The body gets the minerals by eating a well-balanced meal with healthy nutrient dense foods from each of the food groups.

Pre-Game and Post-Game Nutrition

Fueling before and after a sporting event is extremely important to help your body recover, reduce soreness and inflammation after a workout. Pre-game, something quick and delicious to fuel your body would be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When we think of repairing our muscles, we think of protein. When you workout, you are tearing down muscle fibers. Right after a game or workout, you want to prioritize protein (and carbs) to help build that muscle back up. 

We recommend carbs and protein in a 2-to-1 ratio within a 30 minute window. Something quick and easy is chocolate milk. It might be a little higher in sugar but right after a workout that’s extremely important and that’s okay to be drinking. Beet juice, while it may not taste as good as chocolate milk, has a lot of benefits for you, such as increased muscular endurance and strength in your body.

The Secret Ingredient: Sleep and Hydration

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! When it comes to what you’re putting in your body throughout the day, it’s extremely important. There are a lot of high-sugar energy drinks out there, but we highly recommend to stick with good ol’ H20. If you are dehydrated, you are at a higher risk of injury.

In terms of how much water you should be drinking, it definitely depends on how active you are throughout the day, but we recommend 0.5 to 1 ounce of water per pound of bodyweight per day.

Adequate rest is so important for youth athletes. When you’re breaking down your body, you need rest to help your body get back to where it was. If you’re not sleeping at night, your body is not going to fully recover. 8-10 hours of sleep a night is just as important, or even more important than your training.

2-Minute Drill: Core Bracing

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The Play: Core Bracing

The Purpose: A bracing drill to help athletes learn to hold their breath effectively and improve 40-Yard Dash times.

Pre-Snap Read: The stronger an athlete can brace the core, by holding the breath, the faster the limbs can fire. Proximal stiffness creates distal speed. Abdominal pressure allows for more strength recruitment.

Performance: A five-second quick step with the athlete standing tall and holding their breath. The air is held the whole time and the arms and legs are moving as fast as possible.

Post-Drill Analysis: How was the quick step technique? Was the athlete popping off the ground? Did the athlete maintain a neutral spine? Did the athlete remain tall through the chest?

 

The Importance of Strength Training for Young Athletes

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Many parents worry about the possible dangers of strength training for young athletes. Whether it’s safety concerns or concerns about adolescent growth and health affects, we understand that parents are only trying to protect their children. That’s why we feel it’s so important to share the right information so parents can make informed decisions and help their youth athletes achieve their goals.

Here are six benefits of strength training for young athletes:

1. Create a Foundation for the Future

Strength training plays a significant role in ensuring that young athletes develop motor skills, understand muscle mechanics and become more coordinated, stable and strong as they progress through their athletic careers. 

Athletes go through a number of changes during adolescence. Many fundamentals for long-term athletic development are established. As such, it is imperative that young athletes are proficient in movement basics so that their platform for growth and development continues along an upward trend.

2. Reduce the Risk of Injury

In building foundational strength training knowledge, young athletes have a better understanding of muscle mechanics and training with proper form. Proper technique during weight training with all athletes is about safety and preventing injury. It’s never the weight that injures someone. It’s usually improper lifting of the weight. The technique an athlete learns first is the technique they will use all along. If it is learned incorrectly, even with light weight, an athlete might not get injured that day, but later down the line this can become a serious risk. Executing a lift with proper form, whether it’s light weight or heavy weight, is crucial for safety in youth strength training.

Additionally, strength training for young athletes builds injury resiliency as they improve joint flexibility, tendon strength and core strength.

3. Increase Strength

Of course, strength training during adolescence can result in impressive strength gains. In fact, it’s commonly recognized that increases in muscular strength seen in adolesce exceed those gained in older athletes. While a progressive strength training program is always recommended for young athletes, it’s greatly beneficial to have kids begin bodyweight exercises and training with resistance bands as early as age 7.

4. Build Self-Esteem

Quite possibly one of the greatest benefits of strength training for young athletes is the impact on self-esteem and self-confidence. Studies have shown an increase in positive self image with regular strength training. The rigors of a strength program, within reason, help a young athlete gain focus, attention and dedication. They see what their body can do that it couldn’t do before. All that in addition to improved body composition from their training. The resulting confidence and self-esteem helps them not only in their sport, but in all avenues of life.

5. Improve Sports Performance

A stronger athlete is a better athlete. Often, we see parents and coaches hyper-focused on sport-specific training when in actuality, greater benefits can be seen with a well-rounded program, especially for younger athletes. 

Youth athletes do not have the strength, endurance, or stability of their muscles and joints to properly or efficiently perform many sports skills. Sport-specific training at a young age can actually result in muscle imbalances and improper training technique.

You most likely won’t see your young athletes putting on substantial size, but they will have the capability to get stronger due to a more functional nervous system.

Strength training for young athletes supports optimal mobility, stability, coordination, strength, and movement efficiency. In the sports arena, this results in improved speed, agility, quickness and conditioning.

6. Add Variety to Activities

We always have to remember we’re dealing with kids – they want to have fun! While kids are becoming more goal-oriented and dedicated at a younger age these days, it’s so important for coaches and parents alike to be aware of, and avoid, athlete burnout. One of the best ways of doing this is by mixing up the training routine for kids. This way, youth don’t feel like they are always practicing and playing their sport, but they know they are still working toward improving their skills.

Youth Strength Training & Athletic Performance

Are you a young athlete looking to learn more about proper strength training? Or a coach wanting to ensure your youth athletes are training safely and in a way that results in maximal strength gains and athletic performance? Then the Strength for Speed Membership is perfect for you! 

The membership features an extensive library of 30+ strength training videos covering the basics of body mechanics, breathing technique and proper execution of the most important strength training exercises for developing speed, including the deadlift, squat, lunge technique and upper body training essentials.