Young student-athletes are often faced with a tough challenge when rushing to practice after school. How do you fuel for a practice or workout with limited time and when lunch is often hours before the final bell rings?
TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, shares what parents and coaches need to know about pre-workout fueling for middle and high school athletes.
Understand youth energy needs
“Kids’ energy needs are a double-edged sword,” says Ziesmer. “Because of their metabolism and everything going on in their bodies as they develop, their energy needs are going to be higher per kilogram of body weight as opposed to an adult. But because they weigh less, their caloric needs will still often be less than an adult.”
Any time you’re trying to calculate caloric needs, especially when it comes to pre-workout carbohydrate needs, the amount per kilogram of body weight that they need is higher than an adult would need. You can use this handy table to get a sense of your child’s needs based on age and sex, but it will vary slightly based on weight. Ziesmer also notes that you might be shocked by how much your athlete needs. Between the energy cost of the workout and the daily requirements for a growing body, they really are burning through those calories.
Hydration needs are also a bit higher, due to the fact that children have more surface area on their body proportionate to their weight, so they dehydrate faster than adults do. Ziesmer notes that kids, and even teens, are not as aware of hunger or thirst cues, especially during play (or practice). Make sure your athlete is always equipped with a water bottle at school and encourage them to sip steadily throughout the day rather than chugging a liter of water just before practice.
Tell your athlete to eat early
It can be tricky with school schedules and rules around eating in class, but your athlete does need to pre-fuel for practice, especially for practices like cross-country running where energy expenditure is high.
If lunch is early in the day – more than three hours ahead of practice, then Ziesmer recommends, “An hour before practice is good for a small snack because that gives your athlete time to digest their food. When eating an hour before, you need roughly one gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. So, if an athlete is 150 pounds, or 68 kilograms, then they need approximately 68 grams of carbs, 5-10g protein. A sample snack would be 8 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice, 1 serving of whole grain crackers, and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or 1 light string cheese.”
After ahard practice, your student athlete is probably feeling exhausted and hungry—and it may be best if they don’t wait until the next meal before refueling!
TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, explains exactly what and when your athlete needs to eat after practice.
Refuel within 30 minutes
This can be tricky for parents of young athletes, since often, you’re picking your student up from practice and heading home to dinner in a couple of hours.
“I remember being at the end of those practices, I could eat a horse because I was so hungry, but I didn’t really think about eating a whole lot during the practice,” Ziesmer recalls.
It’s tempting to just wait until dinner, but she adds that eating within 30 minutes is ideal for young athletes because that’s when they are “most like sponges,” so they’re really going to soak up all the nutrients. Remember, it can be a smaller snack and your athlete shouldn’t be skipping dinner as a result of the post-workout meal.
Keep easy options on hand
Have a water bottle ready and waiting post-practice (or make sure your athlete has one in their gym bag). Bear in mind, your child doesn’t need a protein shake packed with supplements, and in fact, supplements are not advised for young athletes, even for pre-workout fueling.
Ziesmer is an advocate for whole-food snacks whenever possible. Here are a few of her easy favorites:
* 16 ounces of chocolate milk and a medium banana
* Half of a turkey sandwich with a handful of pretzels
* Muffin – any kind, with 16 ounces of low-fat milk
* 1-2 granola bars with either a sports drink or watered-down juice
* Cooked oatmeal with low-fat milk, raisins, chopped nuts, and maple syrup
She adds that most of these options are easily available, even from convenience stores or gas stations, which means there’s no reason your athlete can’t be properly fueled post-practice.