With sports having been put on hold for the best part of 4 months, youth athletes and their coaches and parents will all be desperate to get back on the training ground. While clubs up and down the country have done their best to keep their athletes fit and ready to return to training with online workouts, athletes aren’t going to be going back to training with their usual levels of fitness. So, how can nutrition help to ensure athletes return to training safely?
Focusing on and getting your nutrition right before and after a training session and ensuring your body is getting enough fuel is key. With training hours having been dramatically cut in lockdown, athletes energy expenditures (the amount of energy they use each day) will have been much lower too. As these are ramped back up with regular training, the amount an athlete eats will need to be increased to match too.
Under fuelling can be hugely detrimental to many different aspects of an athlete’s performance, but more importantly their health too. To reduce the risk of injury and illness as training levels return to normal, athletes should be eating at least 3 meals and 2 snacks each day, and these should be timed around training sessions.
Carbohydrates are absolutely king when it comes to a teen athletes’ diet. They’re the main source of energy that the body uses during exercise, especially high intensity sessions . A return to normal training will probably also see a huge increase in the intensity and duration of sessions compared to the Zoom workouts of lockdown. This means that carbohydrate intakes will need to be increased to make sure the body has enough fuel.
The more you train, the more your muscles are worked and the more they are worked, the more they need to adapt and repair. Having plenty of protein in the diet is vital to ensuring that muscles can continue to grow and repair and to reduce muscle soreness after training too. Include a source of protein in each meal (especially breakfast) and eat two high protein snacks on training days too. After a training session is an especially important time to get one of these protein feeds in.
As training levels increase and athletes return to exercising in different ways to what they have over the winter months, muscle soreness and DOM’s are going to be inevitable. Plenty of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids should be included in the diet as training gets back under way to help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness . Oily fish are the best source of omega-3s to help reduce muscle soreness, but some is also found in walnuts, chia and flax seeds or in a fish oil supplement for vegetarian or vegan athletes.
Sleep is one of the most overlooked and easiest to access of all of the recovery tools. It plays a key role in both physical and mental recovery from exercise , so is going to absolutely crucial in the return to training. 9 hours per night is the suggested amount that youth athletes need to achieve . Anything less than this and they may see detriments to all aspects of their performance.
So, not only is nutrition key to good performance, but more importantly it’s essential to youth athlete’s health and injury risk too. Before youth athletes get back to training, coaches and parents need to ensure that their athletes know how to fuel well to reduce the risk of injury and to make sure they can perform at their best too.
We know that nutrition can be a minefield, especially for young athletes after so long away from training. So to help educate athletes and their parents on good nutrition and to ensure the body is fuelled properly to return to training safely, we've put together a simple downloadable guide on nutrition for returning to training. Head over to our website here to buy and download.
- Burke, L., Hawley, J., Wong, S. and Jeukendrup, A., 2011. Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), pp.S17-S27.
- Jouris, K. B., McDaniel, J. L., & Weiss, E. P. (2011). The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine, 10(3), 432.
- Fullagar, H. H., Duffield, R., Skorski, S., Coutts, A. J., Julian, R., & Meyer, T. (2015). Sleep and Recovery in Team Sport: Current Sleep-Related Issues Facing Professional Team-Sport Athletes, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 10(8), 950-957.
- Halson, S., 2017. Sleep and Athletes. [online] Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Available at: <https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-167-sleep-and-athletes> [Accessed 23 March 2021].\