With the hectic schedules that youth athletes have, with 8 hours of school often sandwiched between double training sessions and trying to find time to socialise, fuelling for training sessions can be tough. The ideal scenario of a high carbohydrate meal eaten 2-3 hours before training starts isn’t always possible. Especially when athletes are rushing to practice straight from school or other activities. But that doesn’t mean fuelling the body for a session is impossible!
Youth athletes training sessions usually have to fit around their school days. This means early morning wake ups for sessions before school even begins, or quick dashes to the local pool or sports centre straight after a full day in the classroom. Or usually both. And this often doesn’t leave time for a full meal to fuel the body. If a full meal is out of the question, then opt for a high carbohydrate snack 30-60 minutes before the session begins. Choose carbohydrates with a relatively high glycemic index as these can be broken down and their energy released quicker and they’re less likely to cause stomach pains.
During any tough exercise lasting more than 60-90 minutes, your body’s energy stores will be depleted, even if your nutrition has been perfect in the build-up to training. The muscles can only store a certain amount of glycogen (energy) and this amount is likely to be lower in younger athletes . Having something on hand to eat or drink before this happens will stop you from hitting the wall and running out of steam. This is even more important in younger athletes than adults, particularly so for boys, who use more energy from any food or drinks that are consumed than what is already stored in the body .
For a quick fuel before exercise, youth athletes should aim to consume a snack or drink containing around 1-2g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass . So, for a 50kg athlete that would be 50-100g of carbohydrate. Keep these low in fat and fibre to reduce the chance of causing stomach upsets.
For sessions lasting longer than 60 minutes, youth athletes should consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour of exercise . While that might sound very complicated, it’s much simpler than it seems. For example, during a 90-minute football match, players should consume a food or drink containing 30-60g of carbohydrate and half time is the ideal time for this. These carbohydrates can either be consumed as liquids (drinks/ gels) or solids (food).
Tip: Use the nutrition labels to check exactly how much carbohydrates are in a product and figure out if it’s the right amount.
60g per hour is commonly referred to as the maximum amount of carbohydrate that should be consumed during exercise. To be used as energy, the carbohydrate that you eat, or drink needs to be broken down into glucose and absorbed from the small intestines. To do this the body uses what are called transporters. The transporters can only carry a certain amount of glucose at a time though (which is about 60g) meaning any excess will build up and cause a bottle neck.
However, some carbohydrates like the ones found in fruit, are broken down into fructose, which has its own transporters separate to the ones above. This means that you can provide your body with extra fuel if the carbohydrates you consume are a combination of glucose and fructose. The ideal combination of glucose and fructose is 2:1. So if consumed in this ratio, the body can actually now digest and use 90g of carbohydrate for fuel . This is a great strategy to use in very long and demanding activities, or when trying to quickly refuel between events.
There’s lots of research to show the benefits of consuming carbohydrates before and during various different exercise types, with improvements ranging from faster race times to reductions in time-to-exhaustion and exercise even feeling easier after a high carb refuel [3,4]. So, from now on, make sure your kit bags are packed with extra snacks for those long sessions!
Remember: If you’re making any changes to the food or drinks you eat, try this out during training and don’t do anything new on competition days!
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Just as your youth athlete will need to fuel well to stay healthy, the same goes for parents too. Ensuring you eat a healthy and balanced diet will help to keep your energy levels high, so you’re better equipped to handle the stress and challenges that life throws at you.