Female youth athletes have unique nutrition needs. Not only do they need to fuel their performances in training and competition, but they need to fuel their bodies for normal growth, development and good health too. But knowing exactly what to eat and when can be really confusing for teenage athletes who are often bombarded with a host of misinformation whether that be from social media or school friends. So, to help support our female athletes, we’ve put together a list of 5 top nutrition tips to simplify eating for performance and health.
1. Calories aren’t bad!
The word ‘calorie’ is often associated with negative connotations, referred to in the context of counting or cutting calories or seen as something that should be limited. But calories certainly aren’t something to be feared! Simply put, they’re a measure of energy; both the energy that you eat and the energy that your body uses.
Young female athletes will have much higher calorie needs than their non-athletic peers so will need to eat a lot of calories to ensure their bodies get the energy it needs. Under fuelling can be really bad for health and increases the risk of injury and illness, as well as making athletes feel generally exhausted and lethargic too. (Read more about calories here).
2. Carbs are key!
Carbs are another one that get a bad rep. There’s always talk of cutting carbs and low-carb diets. But for young female athletes they’re absolutely crucial to performance and health and need to make up the bulk of most meals.
Salads are a great way of getting in those micronutrients you need, but they’re not going to fuel your performance unfortunately! (Read more about carbohydrates here).
3. Protein is for more than just muscles
When we ask youth athletes about protein, the first things they mention are muscles; strength, size, repair, recovery. While these are all completely correct, protein is important for many other reasons and those reasons listed are often why many female athletes are worried about eating protein in the diet.
Make sure you eat a good source of protein with each meal, 1-2 high protein snack throughout the day and around 20g after training too. But don’t worry, this won’t magically make you overly muscular! (Read more about protein here).
4. Fats are good
Another hugely misunderstood food group! Fats aren’t all bad, in fact they’re an essential part of a youth athletes’ diet. Plenty of unsaturated fats should be include in the diet for health and recovery purposes. And did you know that omega-3’s may even help to reduce period pains? So, eat plenty of oily fish (or a fish oil supplement) at the start of your period to help reduce cramps.
5. Periods are normal
Periods are still unfortunately considered to be a taboo subject, especially amongst younger female athletes. But there a perfectly normal and even essential part of a female athlete’s life and career. Don’t be scared or embarrassed to talk about your cycle to your coaches, teammates or parents. In fact, tracking it and talking about it are key to good performance.
Your body will undergo various changes throughout your cycle so it’s important to recognise these and match your training demands accordingly. Tracking your cycle is also a great way to spot any irregularities or missed periods that can easily occur due to under fuelling. While this is really common in female athletes, it certainly isn’t normal and is something that needs to be addressed asap.
We know that nutrition can be a minefield, especially for young female athletes, so to help educate female athletes and their parents on good nutrition and how to fuel, we've put together a simple downloadable guide on nutrition for female athletes. Head over to our website here to buy and download.
Or if you still have questions, you can book in a call with our nutrition team for expert advice and help.