Nutrition is a crucial component for any athlete when attempting to optimize performance. Ensuring proper hydration, caloric balance, and nutrient timing may drastically affect day-to-day performances. Additionally, some young athletes exhibit quite picky tastes when it comes to nutrition. Alternatively, snacking can provide instances where the right nutrition at the right time is delivered.
Understand Human Energy Needs and Macronutrient Intake
To understand snacking, one must also understand human energy systems and macronutrient intake. A macronutrient is considered to be any protein, carbohydrate, and fat that can deliver energy to the body’s systems. Count the macronutrient intake versus counting calories to ensure adequate delivery of necessary nutrients for the athlete’s sport. For instance, if you are a distance runner, it may be best to consume a greater concentration of fats and carbohydrates to fuel the systems responsible for aerobic energy. So, how can we optimize snacking? What type of snacks delivers the best bang for your buck?
Performance snacking is the process of consuming small quantities of carbs, fats, and proteins before activity, roughly 1 hour. This process allows for the proper amount of nutrients to be readily available when most needed. Eating a large meal immediately before activity can leave one feeling full and hinder performance. Remember, it takes energy to make energy. Therefore the greater the bulk consumed, the longer it will be processed into useable energy, potentially leaving some performance on the field. So, what are some ideal options when it comes to performance snacking?
General Tips for Healthy Meals and Snacks:
- Plan ahead for the week. If possible, allocating time for planning can help with making the best nutritional decisions.
- If you cant completely avoid fast food, make smart choices. Choose grilled chicken without the bread sandwiches/wraps, apple slices, or yogurt parfaits.
- Pack meals to take with you. Have all items deconstructed in the refrigerator and ready to go.
- Nuts, dried fruits, etc. are generally sold in bulk making great nutrient-dense snacks for the long haul.
- Provide food for your child to keep in their locker or backpack.
- If feasible, pack 2-3 meals ahead of time. Put in lunch boxes or brown bags for a quick grab and go access.
- Get the kids involved! You’ll have greater compliance with healthy eating if your child has a hand in meal preparation.
Healthy nutrition practices and a healthy diet are the greatest keys to success for your young athlete.
According to Adam Lloyd of International Sports Nutrition, young athletes have a tendency to consume the most convenient snacks available. This leads to poor nutrient density and the potential for the body to spend valuable energy removing the poor quality nutrients instead of fueling the systems. Adam suggests reading labels carefully to prevent the consumption of lower quality nutrients and control over portions. The key is to not overeat, as this adds additional strain on our systems.
Look for low sugar, high carb, high protein, and dense fats such as:
- Berries and Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Natural, unprocessed pancakes made of barley and other whole grains
- Cut veggies with hummus, such as carrots, celery
- Nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and peanut
Consuming natural, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods are the best bet when targeting performance snacking. Avoid all processed items, as the quality of the nutrients has been reduced through processing and will not be optimized for peak performance. Choose a blend of macronutrients, such as proteins and fats, with a greater concentration of carbohydrates. Think of a banana with 1-2 tablespoons of natural peanut or almond butter. You may want to try these homemade protein ball recipes below, thanks to eatingbirdfood.com. Consider you should always consult with a sports nutritionist before making any dietary changes to ensure personal safety. Certainly, be conscientious of food allergies!
2 Homemade Protein Ball Recipes
Chocolate Peanut Butter
- 1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup natural peanut butter
- 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
- 2 scoops (about 50–60 grams) chocolate protein powder
- 2 Tablespoons chocolate chips
Roll into bite-sized balls, refrigerate overnight, and enjoy!