A friend of mine’s son, a state champ in tennis, went from a good player to a state champ after changing his diet to get through grueling tournaments. Diet is more important than you think. Ask successful athletes in tennis, football cross country, basketball, volleyball, soccer, track or any sport what helped them achieve greatness, and many will tell you they learned to eat right.
As a mom of many athletes, I’ve seen kids eat candy bars and Swedish fish before track meets and still perform well, but in the long run, athletes who go the distance commit to good nutrition, and that means protein and carbs. Here’s a link to KidsHealth advice.
5 things to know about athletes and nutrition:
- Is your kid taking creatine? It is a supplement, and if your kid is into this, read this article about the importance of nutrition and hydration. I’ve seen kids take everything from protein powder to excess vitamins. With the Internet, everyone seems to be an expert on nutrition, but supplements are not a good idea and not meant for kids under 18. If you have a concern about your teen’s nutrition, ask a doctor — not a friend.
- Protein bars work for some folks as a protein source, but many are loaded with preservatives and sugar alcohols. My kids didn’t have a problem, but protein bars give me horrible stomach aches. Peanut butter on half of a whole grain bagel was my daughter’s pre-run meal before every cross country and track meet. She was cross country runner of the year in our district, and her track team won states two years in a row. Many tennis players — national and local — credit protein and carbs for keeping energy levels up without the carb crash that can occur if you are performing in an all-day or all-weekend tournament.
- Tournaments often have pizza and fast food readily available, and don’t fall for it. A lot of kids can’t handle dairy — in the form of cheese, yogurt or milk — before an event. Save dairy for after the event or hours before it.
- Hydrate with water. For most people, sports drinks are not a necessity, but water is. Kids must listen to coaches about hydrating, or they will cramp. I see it every year in football — a kid misses an entire game because of cramping. Our bodies need to be hydrated for days in advance of an event. Here’s a great article on dealing with cramps from LECOM.
- Kids don’t always listen to parents or coaches. Kids are kids, and some (like some of mine ) have to learn the hard way. They may get caught up in the latest fad diet but forget that it can have consequences. My son tried Atkins while playing football, and discovered a total loss of energy. Fortunately, a trainer talked him out of it. Visit your family doctor and/or a registered dietitian if your son or daughter is out of sync with sports and diets. Here’s a list of registered dietitians in the Erie area. And remember as kids grow, their nutritional needs change. The days of pre-gaming on Swedish fish and candy bars don’t make the grade at the varsity level.
Pam Parker, a tennis player well acquainted with muscle cramps, is the mom of three and stepmom of three — all athletes. She is the editor of Lake Erie LifeStyle, Her Times and House to Home at the Erie Times-News in Erie, Pa.