Want to dunk like Kobe Bryant or pass like Peyton Manning one day? Growing into a successful athlete doesn’t just require lots of physical ability; it requires good nutrition.
“Sometimes coaches and parents overlook this important part of the training process. It’s up to parents and coaches to learn and teach kids what is good for the body,” said dietician and nutritionist Becky Gorham.
Here are several things athletes should look for in their diets.
Foods rich in carbohydrates are particularly important for young athletes. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy to power the muscles that athletic activity uses. Maintaining a high level of energy is crucial to being able to maintain a grueling training schedule. Cereal, bagels and graham crackers are good foods to get a day’s carbohydrates.
Athletes will burn a lot of calories during their activity. Dietician Tara Gidius says that female athletes need between 2000 and 3000 calories a day. Male athletes by contrast should aim for 3000-5000 calories a day.
If by any chance they are planning on doing certain sports at a really high level, athletes may need even more.
During the Olympics last year, Michael Phelps became famous for his diet. Each day, he ate between 8,000 and 10,000 calories. For breakfast, Phelps ate 3 fried egg sandwiches with cheese and tomatoes, an omelet, 3 slices of powdered French toast, 3 chocolate chip pancakes and grits. Needless to say, the average developing athlete probably doesn’t need to eat that much.
Calcium is also important to a diet. As a child or an adolescent, bones are still developing. Gorham urges athletes to eat at least four servings a day of food like milk, cheese or yogurt.
Developing athletes need plenty of protein, too. Protein is necessary for growth and the repair of tissue. There are other benefits to proteins that go even beyond the playing field.
“Beyond making muscle, protein helps athletes to maintain blood, to keep hormones working and to fight off disease by enriching the immune system,” said nutritionist Sharon Howard.
And yes, even some fat is important in a diet, although many people think they should avoid it. Howard says that athletes should get around 25 to 30 percent of their daily calories from fat. But she cautions that athletes should pick the types of fat they consume carefully. Lean meats and low fat dairy fats are good sources of fat; French fries and fried chicken are not.
More than anything, a balanced diet is what athletes should seek. Howard warns a high-carbohydrate diet that is low in protein can still cause fatigue and poor performance. Other athletes may overdo protein intake at the expense of a balanced diet.
Before making any drastic changes to a diet, it is a good idea to consult with a dietician.
“Since nutritional advice can be offered from sources as varied as successful athletes, self-proclaimed nutritionists, supplement salespersons and trained sports nutrition specialists, athletes would be wise to search for professional assistance,” said Howard.
But one thing is for sure. If you want to play well, you need to eat well.