(From left) Jordan Tyler, 16; Darrius Spivey-Nunn, 17; and Olajuwon Harmon, 17, all Paducah Tilghman football players, meet in Noble Park on their own free time for an exercise over the summer. Health care workers stress the importance of smart hydration and nutrition in high school athletes before taking to the field or court.
Though high school athletes are far removed from the rigorous lifestyles of professional athletes, adhering to strict workout and diet plans, young athletes can still take a healthy page from the pros. Staying diet conscious on and off the field can help keep athletes playing at their best.
Whether participating in year-round or seasonal sports, seeking the proper nutrient and fluid balance before, during and after the big game can help keep the body performing.
And probably the most important consideration for any athlete, regardless of sport, is ensuring proper hydration.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a loss of body weight of slightly more than 1 percent during activity can adversely affect the body’s ability to cope with the stress of exercise and can impair athletic performance, meaning hydration is key when the body starts to sweat.
Athletes should keep track of their fluid consumption, ensuring they’re maintaining a proper amount of hydration — generally about 5 to 10 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during an activity (see info box) — and should take every opportunity to rehydrate.
Lorrie Terry, a dietitian with Western Baptist Hospital, recommended drinking water for light to moderate activities, but switching to sports drinks in heavier exercise or in warm, humid weather, as these fluids replace lost nutrients.
“When you really have that strenuous activity for several hours, sports drinks are helpful,” Terry said. “Most of them have carbohydrates and some sodium so it helps to replace those lost nutrients from sweating and your activity level going up.
“But for a light practice or something, you may not necessarily need those drinks and you’ll get a lot of extra calories that way.”
Keeping athletes’ stomachs filled with the proper amount of nutrients can ensure athletes have enough energy to perform well throughout their game.
Before strenuous exercise, the AND recommend consuming carbohydrate-rich foods to top off muscle stores and small amounts of protein to help repair muscle, about three to four hours before a game. Terry also recommended foods low in fat and fiber.
“As far as meals go, try not to eat too much carbohydrates — you still need to have your protein and low-fat foods — just having carbohydrates is not something that’s recommended because you will need that protein,” Terry said.
During exercise, especially in endurance events where an empty stomach can lead to cramping, eat easily digested foods such as bananas, bread, low-fat granola bars or sports gels, gummies or chews, and stay hydrated. Too little fluids or too much carbohydrates can result in intestinal troubles.
The foods consumed after the final whistle are key, too. However, when traveling from away games, fast food restaurants might be the only option. Terry said you should order foods that are baked, broiled or grilled and stay away from breaded foods with excess fat.
“I really think athletes just need to follow a good healthy diet and follow their plan,” Terry said.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Fluid Recommendations
n 2 to 3 hours before exercise: Drink 2 to 3 cups of water/sports drink.
n 30 minutes before exercise: Drink 1/2 to 1 cup water/sports drink.
n During exercise: Drink 1/2 to 1 cup water/sports drink every 15 minutes.
n After exercise: Drink at least 2 1/2 cups water/sports drink for every pound lost during exercise.