As an athlete you are always looking for an edge. Hoping to find at least one thing to help you overcome the challenges you are facing and gain a competitive edge while competing. As coaches your goal is to help your players get better and compete at the highest level they can. Through all the practice, strategy, and adjustments one thing often overlooked in youth sports to achieve this is good sports nutrition.
What is good sports nutrition
To keep it simple, healthy eating will equate to good sports nutrition. What you put in your body is the fuel that makes your body go. Eating healthy helps your body perform. Youth athletes need their bodies to perform as best they can. An obvious comparison is gasoline for your vehicle. If you don't feed your car gas, it will not run. The higher quality gas you feed your body, the better it will run. Many people believe if you feed your car gas more often, instead of waiting until it is on "E", it will run better. The same for the way your body performs. Good, quality, frequent food in your body will keep your body running and running well.
Teach the "why" of sports nutrition
Kids are generally not concerned with what they eat. They may not even notice a difference in their bodies when it is running on low quality and low nutrient foods versus high quality and high nutrient foods. Just like they may not know why it is important to run sprints after practice, or to learn to shoot layups with both hands. One of your jobs as coach is to get your players to do the hard things, the things they may not understand or want to do, in order to get the best out of them. When you embrace your role in coaching good sports nutrition, your athletes are more likely to practice it.
“Nutrition can make a great athlete good or a good athlete great.”
Good nutrition will position them to get more out of their body, for longer periods of time. It will give them an edge when competing.
Consuming plenty of fluids
Over half of the human body is made up of water. Our bodies need water to function, especially when our bodies are active. Performance improves when fluid balance is maintained before, during, and after exercise. Young athletes do not always know when their bodies need fluids. Encourage your players to bring their own water bottles with them to each practice or game, not sports drinks (more on this below). They should take a drink every 10 to 15 minutes when practicing or playing. Not all facilities or fields will have water nearby, and kids are more likely to drink the water if it is easily accessible.
Meal frequency and timing is important
Just as important to what your athletes eat is when they eat. Eating three times per day is not enough, especially for an athlete. In general 5 to 6 meals per day is what is needed to keep our bodies away from "E." A youth athlete may require 6 to 8 meals depending upon their level of physical activity. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner with snacks in between is a good foundation. In addition, a high energy snack (not a supplement) should be eaten within a couple hours prior to practicing and competing. A high protein snack should be consumed within 45 minutes after practice or games. As a youth coach you may not have much control of your player's eating habits away from the field. However, you may be able to encourage parents to provide healthy snacks for the post-game snack.
What about sports drinks and supplements?
Every sporting event on TV has some type of sport drink or supplement advertisement. In many cases they are leaving you with the impression they will give an athlete the edge they are looking for. They may help in some circumstances, but be cautious. Sports drinks and supplements will not and should not replace quality real food choices for young athletes. Athletes who drink plenty of water, eat enough quality foods, and properly rest their bodies have no need for them. In fact, sports drinks and supplements can be harmful to a young athlete's body and health. Sports drinks are designed to be consumed during exercise for longer than an hour. On days when that happens salty snacks with lots of water, or juicy fruits will do the job. Teach and encourage quality sports nutrition and they'll get the edge they need.
This includes you, coach...
I have learned through teaching my kids and coaching youth athletes that one great way to get them to follow my lead, Is to lead them with action. If you want them to shoot a proper left hand layup, then getting out there and doing it is very effective. If you want your athletes to practice proper nutrition, then you model it. Besides the fact your athletes will have an edge and perform better, it will have a great impact on you. Not only will it impact your energy and performance levels as coach, it will greatly impact your health. It will impact your life, and your family. Far too many coaches, of all levels, have health issues. Show your kids you know how to practice what you preach, while gaining a competitive edge in life. Question: How do (or will) you coach your athletes in the area of sports nutrition? Jackie Bledsoe, Jr. is a sports parent of three, and writes on sports parenting. He has played sports for over 30 years, including the collegiate level, and coached youth sports for the past eight years.
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