young athlete

Meal Planning for the Young Athlete

I started meal planning and prepping in high school. I had begun to find myself giving the same effort as always but with less gains and improvements. I then experienced 2 individual events, one in my running and one in my skating. I first discovered that chicken fingers and fries from the school cafeteria was not the meal that was going to give me my best afternoon run or skate. Then I discovered that, on the flip side, not eating enough before events and not being prepared with snacks at away competitions would leave me tired and underfueled for practices and competitions. Both scenarios led to poor performances and, realizing this, I started to spend more time taking an interest in what I was putting onto my body and when.

I love working with athletes who have discovered this connection between food / nutrition and their sport and energy levels and are ready to take action. What I find they need the most is simply a starting point. Where to begin? How do you think about it? What is a framework for figuring this out?

Today I’m walking through some basic steps to meal planning and prepping for the young athlete. I’m focusing on lunch here but I can talk more about including breakfast and dinners if you guys want - just comment below! I hope you find this helpful. Please share with a friend or teammate who would also find this helpful!

Happy Fueling!

Taylor


6 STEPS TO SIMPLIFIED MEAL PLANNING FOR THE YOUNG ATHLETE



  1. Look at Your School Schedule

Before you can plan anything you have to know what you are planning for! How many lunches will you need? How many breakfasts? Are you factoring dinner into the equation or just breakfast, lunch and snacks?? I like to use my personal calendar for this so that it is visible in my busy daily schedule.

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2. Look at How Much Time You Have for Meals

How much time do you actually have for meals? Are you scarfing down breakfast as you run out the door in the morning? Do you eat breakfast at school after morning practice? Do you get a fast fifteen minutes for lunch that you squeeze in between last minute homework? Or do you have a full thirty minutes to an hour? ( IF your answer is none of the above, “I skip lunch”, then please resubmit your answer as either A or B, because, attention, you need all of your meals! Skipping a meal is not an option in the meal planning or prepping process! )

How much time you have for meals will also help you determine what you should plan for and bring. If you only have 15 minutes, bringing something that needs to be microwaved, is, realistically, probably not your best option. Write down lunch in your planner and how much time you think you will realistically have for it.

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3. Know What Your Nutrition Needs Are

All athletes have different macro and micronutrient needs depending on their own unique body and the sport that they play. An endurance runner will have different needs than a volleyball player who will have different needs than a football player who will have different needs than a figure skater. I talk with lots of athletes who are working on increasing their calcium intake, protein intake and overall energy intake. If this is also you, then it’s something you need to be considering! Are you a vegetarian? If so, then it’s really important to make sure you are getting enough protein, iron, zinc and B12 from plant and dairy sources (if you include dairy).

4. List Foods You Like In Each Food Group

While the new MyPlate does a good job of showcasing and simplifying the foods groups and how to incorporate them into meals, it only shows 5 food groups, failing to showcase fat, which I believe is a very important part of a healthy young athlete’s nutrition plan. Now that you have in mind your time-frame and nutrition needs, take a look at the Six Food Groups and the foods that you most commonly include within these groups:

  • Meat or Meat Equivalent (for those that don’t eat meat)

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Whole Grains

  • Dairy

  • Fat

I like to put these categories in columns like the picture below so that it leaves room to brainstorm all of the possible foods you can include in each category.

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5. Choose at Least 3 Food Groups Per Meal

Now, think about what foods you want to include in your meals that week. Say you are planning lunch and you know that you are trying to get more calcium in your meals, you have cross country practice in 3 hours and you will have about 20 minutes for lunch today. That means you should probably bring something that can (A) be served cold, (B) contains calcium, (C) will offer a good portion of carbohydrate to fuel your run but (D) be lower in fat so that digesting the meal will not interfere with your run. For me, I might pick a MEAT (or “MEAT EQUIVALENT”), some GRAINS/STARCH and some DAIRY at a minimum (this could look like chicken, whole grain crackers & yogurt). Young athletes will most likely need much more food than this, but this is an example of the minimum from different categories.

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6. Vary the Foods within Each of These Food Groups Weekly

To keep it easy, you could plan to stick with a meat, starch and dairy food in each of your lunches. However, try to choose two or three foods within each of those food groups to get a variety of nutrients throughout the week and to prevent getting bored. For example, I might focus on the following three food groups and then choose the following foods within each food group to mix and match for the week. I’ll also throw in a few foods from other groups to complement meals as needed. Something I might choose would be:

  • MEAT = chicken, beans, eggs

  • STARCH = whole grain bread, sweet potatoes, whole grain crackers

  • DAIRY = low-fat yogurt and cheese

  • FRUITS = apples, grapes, bananas

  • VEGGIES = spinach, cucumbers, bell peppers, mushrooms

What meals could I make from this? Examples might be:

  • A chicken sandwich on whole - wheat bread with spinach, cheese and mustard + an apple + a yogurt

  • A spinach salad topped with hard boiled eggs, garbanzo beans, cucumbers and bell peppers + an olive oil - based dressing + a low-fat yogurt (a Greek or high protein yogurt if I need more protein and it digests in time for my run) + a bunch of grapes

  • You can also keep it super basic and make what I like to call a “grab bag”. There is certainly nothing wrong with this! Bring a ziplock baggie of chicken + a baggie of grapes + whole grain crackers + a low-fat yogurt and whatever else you might need to keep you fueled!

Remember that my examples here are not personalized. You may need less or a lot more food than this. These examples are just to give you a basic visual.


Nutrition Talks: Key Messages for Young Athletes

School is starting back up, which means I get to be back in schools talking with young athletes about sports nutrition and how food can make them stronger, faster and sharper, and at the same time enable optimal growth, development and performance in school.  There is a lot going on with this group of athletes and I always remind them of that.   I then remind them that nutrition plays an important role during this time.

 Try these Sun Butter (or Peanut Butter) Banana Overnight Oats!

Try these Sun Butter (or Peanut Butter) Banana Overnight Oats!

My first talk of the school year was last week and I loved it just as much as I always do.  I love the challenge and  I love talking about something I'm (a) passionate about, (b) believe in and (c) have the science and life experience (before I studied it I lived it) to back  me up.  As much as I love it, though, I always feel like I'm potentially walking a fine line - the line that divides the side of helping athletes become well-rounded, eating foods they enjoy but mostly focusing on foods that will support their training, sport, and day-to-day activities and the side of propelling them into the extreme, becoming too structured, too restrictive, or fixating on just one point discussed (this is the reason I always like to do follow-up talks and not appear just once, if I can).  Keeping this in mind, when giving talks or working one-on-one, I always try to remember or mention the following things.....

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE & TIMING OF FOOD VS “GOOD” AND “BAD”

 Get the recipe for this super simple Fig & Cheddar Turkey Melt!

Get the recipe for this super simple Fig & Cheddar Turkey Melt!

It's important to eat "healthy" most of the time but that doesn't mean a young athlete can't still enjoy his or her favorite "less healthy" foods.  I always want to make sure I get the point across that just b/c a certain food isn't ideal for training or competition that doesn't make it across the board "bad" (I avoid labeling foods as "bad" and "good") - it means it's not the ideal food at that time for reasons including:  it may cause stomach cramps, upset stomach or nausea during the event or it may cause blood sugar spikes and crashes throughout the day leaving the athlete feeling tired and drained at the time of the event. 

 

BE CAUTIOUS OF THOSE PRONE TO OR ALREADY STRUGGLING WITH DISORDERED EATING

 Need a quick breakfast, snack, or dessert idea? These  Sun Butter Banana Oat Bites  are delish!

Need a quick breakfast, snack, or dessert idea? These Sun Butter Banana Oat Bites are delish!

Part of my caution in talking to young athletes about sports nutrition also stem from my knowledge of the presence of disordered eating and eating disorders in adolescents and now in children, and I never want to say anything to offend or set someone off.  If one athlete isn't the one with the disordered eating or eating disorder, it may very well be the friend or teammate sitting across the bench.  These things are very personal and often not talked about.  


 

“HEALTHY” & “PORTION SIZE” ARE A RELATIVE TERM. UNDER -EATING OR UNDER-FUELING DOES NOT MAKE GREAT ATHLETES. IT MAKES GREAT INJURIES.

 Easy dinner idea packed with nutrition, flavor and 3 out of the 5 food groups? Try this  Chili Lime Shrimp  Dish!

Easy dinner idea packed with nutrition, flavor and 3 out of the 5 food groups? Try this Chili Lime Shrimp Dish!

I also want student athletes to understand that as athletes they can't assume that their friend's or peer's definition of "healthy" is the same as their definition.  Young athletes want lots of fruits and veggies and lean protein and some healthy fats like everyone else, but, for most young competitive and elite athletes who have hit puberty, foods with carbohydrates should be a best friend.  On top of that,  young competitive and elite athletes typically need bigger portions or to eat more frequently than their friends and family members do due to increased energy and nutrition needs from hours of practice and playing.  As a figure skater growing up, there was a period of time in Middle School, maybe sliding into the 9th grade, where I thought less food = better skating.  I soon learned, and more on this is saved for a separate post, that that was not the case.  I'll say this again, but, under-eating or under - fueling doesn't make great athletes.  It makes great injuries.    

 

SUMMING IT UP

 Easy to make & easy to pack, I love this  Red Pepper & Pesto Chicken Salad!

Easy to make & easy to pack, I love this Red Pepper & Pesto Chicken Salad!

Overall, yes, young athletes want to eat "healthier" foods because these are going to supply them with: (1) ample energy to work their hardest  (2) sustained energy for longer practices and maintained focus (3) strong bones to withstand the constant pounding and stress put on them  (4) decreased inflammation after wear and tear of muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. and (5) strong muscles to keep them running, kicking, hitting, jumping, swimming and diving.  There is the saying that a sport is 90% mental and 10% physical.  I can see the validity in this statement;  however, even with the toughest "go-get-em" attitude, an athlete can only get so far if he or she does not have the proper nutrition as a foundation.  Yes, this strong-willed attitude may work for a short while, but if the athlete keeps going, keeps advancing with longer practices and harder workouts, eventually poor nutrition (whether that's too much of the nutrient-void foods, too little of the nutrient-dense foods, or just too little food in general) will catch up with him or her.  So, yes, there can be room for favorite desserts, chips, french fries, etc., but these foods have to be placed at the right time and these lower nutrient foods can't crowd out the ones that fuel the sport, growth, and school work.  

Wrapping it up, this is what has been on my mind this week.  Of course, every athlete has his or her own unique nutrition needs depending on factors including, but not limited to, age, weight, height, and sport played.  However, at the root of all of my different talks for different teams and with different athletes is the following message: 

  1. You've got to get you fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, calcium and healthy fats to play / perform your best.

  2. That doesn't mean you cannot or should not ever include you favorite foods that don't fall into the categories in #1.

  3. Understanding digestion rates / timing is helpful so you know the best time to enjoy those favorite foods that may not be the best fuel for your sport. Knowing this will also help you incorporate those favorite foods that do best fuel your sport, helping you place them at the right times before, during and after events.

  4. Also remember that you're an athlete. If you're a serious competitive or elite athlete, you're using up a lot more energy and nutrients than your non-athlete peers. This means you most likely have to eat more food. Under-eating or under - fueling doesn't make great athletes. It makes great injuries.

  5. So, eat your meals and pack your snacks. Load them up with the nutrient-rich foods to support training, but enjoy your favorite foods along the way - whatever those may be.

 

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

Hydration for the Young Athlete

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The name of the game this month is HYDRATION.  Here I want to touch on the importance of staying hydrated, signs and symptoms of dehydration and foods and fluids that can help you keep up with your fluid goals.

We all know Texas summers (or really any southern summers) are HOT.  However, that doesn't stop our morning or evening runs, our summer hikes and lake trips, and of course our kids' summer sports and activities.  Whether you're a parent or a young athlete, you run an increased risk of getting dehydrated out in the hot summer sun.  However, if you know how being hydrated helps your health and performance, the signs & symptoms of dehydration, and some strategies to help you stay hydrated, you can go on as usual, staying fit, staying healthy and playing your best.

 

The Importance Of Being Hydrated:  

Staying hydrated keeps us energized and alert.  We have to sweat because the act of sweating controls our body's core temperature, keeping us cool and preventing us from getting overheated, which can lead to heat illness.  We must stay hydrated to replace fluids lost in this process.  Staying hydrated will keep us energized, sharp, and promote optimal recovery time after a workout, game or practice

 

How To Know If You Are Dehydrated:  You may be dehydrated if....           

  • You experience fatigue early in your activity

  • You notice a decrease in performance

  • You get headaches or feel lightheaded

  • You have a hard time focusing, whether in your workout, in the office or in the classroom

  • You notice you are not sweating nearly as much as you usually do

  • Your urine is dark in color (like apple juice) and / or low in volume

 

Hydration Strategies for a Fueled & Focused Day:

  1. Drink fluids (focusing on water) throughout the day, starting when you wake up and make this a daily practice. You cannot make up for lack of fluids right before your event or the day of!

  2. Know your sweat rate. You can weigh yourself right before and right after your workout. The body weight lost is from water. You want to drink about 16 - 24 ounces of fluid for each pound of body weight you or your athlete loses during a workout. (Note: if there is a history of disordered eating or eating disorders with the athlete, I do not recommend this method)

  3. If you or your athlete is a salty sweater (notice a salty residue on the skin or clothing after exercise), a sports drink or salty snacks would be beneficial to replace the lost electrolytes (sodium & potassium, specifically).

  4. If you or your athlete is not a good drinker or does not often feel thirsty, salty snacks may also be beneficial to increase thirst and promote a higher fluid intake.

  5. If your athlete is not able to drink much at school, encourage high - water - content foods at breakfast and pack high - water - content foods in their lunch and for snacks

 

Hydrating Food & Fluids to Have On-Hand:

  • Bottled waters

  • Sports drinks like Gatorade (during or after exercise only)

  • Fresh or frozen fruits (like oranges, grapes, apples, watermelon & pineapple)

  • Fresh vegetables (like cherry tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, & cucumber slices)

  • Pretzels or other salty crackers (promote thirst and increased fluid intake)

  • Soups

  • Low-fat yogurts

  • Tomato juice

  • Bottled or home-made smoothies

 

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

Summer Sports Camp Fuel

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Just because it's summer doesn't mean the madness stops.  It seems to simply shift to a different routine of crazy as you juggle your own regular work schedule plus your athlete's morning practices, two-a-days, sports camps, and other summer activities, all while making sure you and your young athlete are fueled enough to get you both through the day.  Special attention is needed for young athletes who, depending on their sport, may have gone from a one to two-hour practice before school and / or a 2 to 3 hour practice after school to all-day sports camps consisting of breaks here and there throughout the day, but not much time for rest and recovery and often times out in the heat of the day.

So, let's talk SPORTS CAMP FUEL.  The goal here is to energize and to hydrate.  To provide quick fuel and also provide sustained energy.  "Quick", "totable", "simple" are the criteria for these meals and snacks - items that can be made before bed or assembled quickly in the morning before heading out for the day.

To hopefully make life a bit easier, below, I have compiled a list of snack ideas for camp with a little explanation of why they make great sports snacks.  For more ideas keep up with the blog, which will be featuring healthy fueling snacks throughout the months to come!


QUICK ENERGY WHEN YOUR CAMPER HAS A COOLER

  • Water

  • Smoothies (fluid, antioxidants, and carbohydrate from fruits and water / ice)

  • Fresh fruits (such as: grapes, tangerines, pineapple, watermelon, apple slices)

  • Mini bottles of a sports drink (like Gatorade)

 

QUICK ENERGY WITHOUT A COOLER

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  • Water

  • Pretzels or other salty crackers (quick carbohydrates + salt to replace sodium lost in sweat and help retain fluid)

  • Dried fruit (quick carbohydrate + antioxidants + some iron, depending on the dried fruit)

  • Whole grain cereal (low in fat and fiber)

  • Fresh fruit

  • Granola bars (low in fat and fiber)

  • Jam Sandwich on white bread (very quick carbohydrate)



 LONG-TERM ENERGY WHEN YOU OR YOUR CAMPER HAS A COOLER

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  • String Cheese

  • Turkey & Cheese Pita

  • Turkey & Hummus Wrap

  • Bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk

  • Nonfat Greek yogurt topped with fruit and a little low-fat granola

  • DIY Blackberry Burst yogurt (a Taylored Recipe)

  • Hummus & whole grain crackers (healthy fat, protein, fiber + a little iron)

  • Low-fat milk or chocolate milk (carbohydrate, potassium & protein - great snack to refuel)

  • Smoothies made with milk / yogurt

  • Fig & Cheddar Turkey Sandwich (a Taylored Recipe)

  • Sliced tomato or pineapple & cottage cheese

  • Pasta salad with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and Italian dressing

  • Quinoa / rice bowl with bell peppers, avocado, chopped grilled chicken & salsa

 

SUSTAINED ENERGY WITHOUT A COOLER

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  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich

  • Graham crackers with peanut butter topped with strawberry or banana slice

  • homemade trail mix (nuts, whole grain cereal & dried fruit)

  • Hearty whole grain granola bars with at least 6 grams of protein

  • Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bites

  • Popcorn

  • Pre-packaged oatmeal packets (if a microwave will be available)

  • Carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, baby tomatoes (as a side)

SNACKS THAT HYDRATE

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  • Water

  • Nonfat yogurts

  • Nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese

  • Smoothies

  • Fresh or frozen fruit

  • Fresh vegetable slices (such as: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumber)

  • Sports drinks

  • Apple sauce

  • Chocolate milk (great recovery drink after a long intense practice)

  • Vegetable juice (such as V8 or tomato juice)

Feel free to comment below with any questions or suggestions of things you do that work for you and your young athlete!

Happy Fueling! 

Taylor

Food to Fuel the After-School Practice

School has officially begun or is about to begin.  While mom and dad work hard to get a balanced breakfast in their young athlete in the morning, the athlete is now on his or her own for about 7 hours a day in regards to food and nutrition.  This seven hours is a time that can include fueling for an afternoon practice or recovering from a morning workout.  However, often times it is not.  No one is close to guide the athlete's food choices, remind him or her to drink water, to see what he or she had for lunch or to see if lunch was even eaten.  

The challenge for the child or teen athlete is to not get so caught up in projects, friends and activities during the day that they miss snacks, skip lunch or forget to drink fluids.  Many times we see athletes skip lunch to finish last-minute schoolwork, hang out with their friends or simply because nothing appeals to them at lunch.  They either arrive to practice way under-fueled or they may grab fast - food on the way to practice or a game.  Either situation usually leads to a sluggish athlete and sub-optimal practice.

There is only so much we, as the parent, the coach, the dietitian, the trainer, the (fill in the blank) can do, but we can at least help explain to our athletes what an impact their food & drink choices throughout the day have on their practices and performances.  After talking we should then show them how to take this information and make it tangible.  We can work with them to find fueling healthy snack and lunch options that they can take with them to school, keeping in mind that this is going to have to be a compromise.  The meal or snack can be super healthy, but if they won't eat it, the health factor does not matter.  When working with your athletes you should:

  1. Go through the kind of foods they need to fuel (carbs, protein, a little healthy fat).

  2. Have them pick out food that they WILL EAT out of the list you created together.

  3. Help the athletes assemble their meal and snack bag for the day.

Get started assembling fueling meals & snacks with the below general guidelines and examples...

PICK A FEW WHOLE GRAINS

  • favorite low sugar whole grain cereal

  • whole grain bread, pasta, wrap

  • Whole grain crackers

PICK 2 FRUITS

  • favorite fresh fruit

  • favorite dried fruit

PICK 2 VEGETABLES 

  • raw veggies

  • cooked veggies

PICK 2 PROTEINS 

  • poultry / fish (salmon or tuna for a bonus of healthy fats) / lean beef

  • beans / tofu / eggs

PICK 1 - 2 DAIRY ITEMS

  • low-fat plain milk or chocolate milk

  • low-fat yogurt

  • low-fat cottage cheese

  • cheese slices / sticks

PICK SOME HEALTHY FAT

  • avocado

  • nuts & seeds

  • nut butter or seed butter (like sun butter for those with a nut allergy)

  • olive oil / olive oil - based salad dressings

  • if you choose salmon or tuna as your protein, you will also be getting some healthy fat

PICK A FLUID

  • WATER

  • low-fat milk

  • smoothies

  • Gatorade (for during or after intense practices in the high heat)

  • 100% fruit juice (for added calories)

  • remember that foods like fruits & vegetables, yogurts, applesauce & soups also contribute fluid

PICK A "QUICK FUEL" ITEM

  • dried fruit

  • fresh fruit

  • pretzels

  • graham crackers

  • juice box

  • toast (white bread) with jam

  • low fiber, low protein granola bar

PUT ALL OF THESE SUGGESTIONS TOGETHER FOR ....

  • Turkey & cheese wrap with lettuce, tomato, hummus + an apple

  • Tuna salad (made with a mix of light mayo & mustard) + crackers + grapes

  • Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich

  • Salad with fresh veggies, grilled chicken + vinaigrette dressing

  • Bean and veggie soup

  • Cooked oatmeal made with low-fat milk, cinnamon, about 1 tsp of honey and fresh fruit on top

  • Bowl of cereal with low-fat milk topped with fresh fruit

  • Toaster waffle sandwich (with peanut butter and jelly)

  • Cottage cheese with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, turkey slices and a dash of salt & pepper

  • Chicken salad (see my Confetti Chicken Salad Recipe to be posted next week!) with whole grain crackers and fruit

  • Cooked whole - wheat pasta spirals with roasted tomatoes, oregano, thyme and ground turkey + fresh fruit

  • Mexican Salad Bowl: 1/2 cup cooked quinoa + 1 cup cooked veggies + 1/2 cup black beans (rinsed & drained) + 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro + 1/4 cup salsa mixed in + 1/4 cup low-fat feta

  • Trail mix made with unsalted dry roasted almonds, dried cherries and whole grain cereal

  • Graham crackers topped with nut butter & dried cherries or raisins

  • Hardboiled eggs + carrot slices & hummus + an apple

  • Whole grain granola bar (I like Kashi, some KIND bars, Larabar, & some varieties of NuGo Slim) + low fat Greek yogurt.

I hope this gives you a little guidance as to how to help you and your athlete eat for afternoon and evening practices and games.  Follow it strictly or use it as a base to create your own delicious and energizing meals and snacks.

Happy Fueling!