Fueling for sports: Guidance for adolescent athletes

What should your adolescent be doing to keep his or her body in top condition on game day or during intense practices? Training and games or meets may call for some special nutrition attention to maintain hydration status and promote muscle health.

Katelyn Wolfe, MS, RD, CSP, LDN, of Nutrition Therapy at Le Bonheur, explains fueling needs based on how long and how intense your child is working out.

Let’s find out specific needs based on intensity and duration of activity:

Light physical activity that lasts less than 60 minutes such as walking, golf, yoga and Pilates:

  • Hydration before, during and after with water
  • Light carbohydrate-containing snack if needed before or after (ie: fruit, grain bar, yogurt cup, whole wheat crackers or pretzels paired with hummus or string cheese)

Moderate physical activity that lasts 30-60 minutes such as volleyball, tennis, some types of track and field sports, softball and baseball (some of these sports lasts longer than 60 minutes but includes a lot of bench time):

  • Hydration before, during, and after with water and/or electrolyte replacement beverage for outdoor activities in extreme heat or indoors with inadequate air conditioning
  • Light carbohydrate-containing snack if needed before or after (ie: fruit, grain bar, yogurt cup, whole wheat crackers or pretzels paired with hummus or string cheese)

Moderate physical activity that lasts 60+ minutes such as cheerleading, dance and wrestling:

  • Hydration before, during and after with water and/or electrolyte replacement beverage
  • Light snack if needed before or after (ie: fruit, grain bar, yogurt cup, whole wheat crackers or pretzels paired with hummus or string cheese)
  • Aim to include a source of protein in a meal or snack post-practice or game, ideally within 60 minutes. Good sources of protein include poultry, fish, meat, beans, dairy and nuts.

Vigorous physical activity such as soccer, basketball, swim team, cross country, track, floor gymnastics, water polo, lacrosse, football, etc:

  • Hydration before, during and after with water and/or electrolyte replacement beverage
  • Light snack if needed before activity (ie: fruit, grain bar, yogurt cup, whole wheat crackers or pretzels paired with hummus or string cheese). Note that some athletes may have adverse bowel movements if eating right before a practice or game. If so, should have the snack 30-60 minutes beforehand.
  • Aim to include a source of protein in a meal or snack post-practice or game, ideally within 60 minutes. Good sources include poultry, fish, meat, beans, dairy and nuts.

Additional tips:

  • For every 1lb of weight loss during activity, the athlete should replenish with 20-24 oz. of water and/or electrolyte replacement beverage such as Powerade or Gatorade. This volume of fluid is in addition to the amount that the athlete took in during activity.
  • Every athlete is different. Each person should listen to his or her own body for hydration cues, when to take a break and when to stop activity. This is especially important when athletes are competing in hot or humid temperatures outside or in inadequately air conditioned gyms.
  • Adolescent athletes can be easy targets for heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. If a parent has concerns that his or her child is not being given the opportunity to hydrate or rest as needed, then please address these concerns with the team coach or school’s athletic director.
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