It’s all well and good nailing the ‘perfect’ diet for athletes; fuelling with carbohydrates before a session, eating a good source of protein and carbs afterwards and getting in a selection of fruit and veg throughout the day. But the main thing youth athletes need to consider first and foremost, and something that is often overlooked, is simply whether they’re eating enough!
Under fuelling the body by not eating enough calories to match the large amount that are burned during exercise can result in the body being in a state of low energy availability . This in turn can lead to the syndrome known as RED-S and can cause lots of serious health problems for youth athletes, affecting all aspects of their natural growth and development and impacting their sporting performance as well .
But how do you know how whether youth athletes are eating enough for optimal growth and health and to maximise their training and performance?
Trying to figure out how many calories to eat can be tricky. It depends on lots of different things such as age, weight, gender, activity level etc and can vary from day to day. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to figure this out in youth athletes. But making sure you’re eating enough doesn’t have to be so complicated.
We’ve created 5 key tips to help ensure youth athletes are eating enough, simply by listening to their body and how they feel day to day.
1. Energy Levels
If your energy levels are low and you’re feeling exhausted all of the time or you have to drag yourself out of bed or off the sofa for a training session this could be a sign you’re not eating enough. Especially if you feel like you’re getting enough sleep each night but just never feel rested and lack momentum to get going for a session.
As well as feeling tired, you might also feel extra irritable, teary or even snapping quickly at things that wouldn’t usually bother you. If this is the case, then try adding a little more to your diet and keeping your micronutrient intake high to help boost your mood and mind.
Usually place on the podium and suddenly finding yourself at the bottom of the pack? Or dragging yourself through sessions or to the end of the game when it normally feels quite easy? This is a sure sign that you’re under fuelling your body and you need to increase your food intake.
Appetites a great guide to how much you should be eating. If you’re feeling hungrier than usual and want to eat more than you normally would then this could be a sign your body needs more energy. Serve up slightly bigger meals or add in extra snacks throughout the day to keep the energy stores up.
Simple sugars are the quickest way to replenish the energy stores in the body, so if you’re craving sweet and sugary foods throughout the day then this might be the body’s way of telling you’re your energy stores are running low. Top them up with a good source of carbohydrates to fuel your upcoming sessions.
So while focusing on specific areas of the diets is key to performance, remember the first area to consider is simply eating enough!
- Loucks, A.B., Kiens, B. and Wright, H.H. (2011) Energy availability in athletes. Journal of sports sciences, 29 (sup1), S7-S15.
- Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Burke, L., Carter, S., Constantini, N., Lebrun, C., Meyer, N., Sherman, R., Steffen, K., Budgett, R. and Ljungqvist, A. (2014) The IOC consensus statement: beyond the Female Athlete Triad—Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48 (7), 491.
Author: Emmy Campbell, BSc., MSc, SENr., Registered Nutritionist @ Youth Sport Nutrition
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