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Nutrition and Hydration for your young athletes

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

Just like any of your young athletes' training, nutrition needs to be consistent to get the best results. One thing lots of swimmers have done over the years and continue to do is eat whatever and whenever they like with little thought as to nutritional content (does rushing to McD's after a competition ring a bell?).

The reason many swimmers have been able to get away with this is because of the nature and intensity of their training, meaning they are burning the calories almost as soon as they have eaten. Michael Phelps, for example, would burn up to 12,000 calories a day in the height of his training.

Our bodies are quite efficient at turning junk food into fuel, however they do not provide the right nutrients for your body and you will feel sluggish after it. If you are going to eat these simple carbs then following a hard training session is the best time as they will be easily digested by the body to start recovery following the workout. Imagine though how much better your engine would be if you took time to invest in proper nutrition and healthy eating to maximise performance and recovery.

When you become consistent with your nutrition then you will reap the rewards over time and feel and perform better than those who don’t invest in good nutrition.

We understand meal times can be hard with modern family life; busy work schedules, organising the family, walking the dog, sorting those odd socks out, never ending after-school activities, and not forgetting the taxi service to and from all that training and weekend competitions!

The best advice? - PLAN AHEAD AND EAT REAL FOOD. Forget processed, packaged, fast food and eat real food and meals prepared using raw ingredients. With a little bit of planning you can achieve this: try to plan & shop for meals for the week ahead, put a menu board on the fridge and get the whole family involved (this is a massive stress reliever and can help with the fussiest of eaters as they begin to accept the house rules!), cook double or triple the amount and freeze for when time is a constraint, turn leftovers into tasty next day a meal (mix leftover ingredients into a bowl of pasta and top with cheese or stir fry with rice and an egg for easy fried rice), get a slow cooker (what a blessing these are!)are just some ideas.

Meal planning should follow 3 simple rules:

1. Vary the diet to avoid boredom.

2. Eat enough of each nutrient

(carbohydrates, protein, & fat) to

meet training & racing demands.

3. Choose healthy options each time.

Here are some valuable tips:

Carbohydrates fuel the muscles fast - these are so important to any athlete as they are the fastest nutrient to provide the body's fuel, no other nutrient burns as efficiently and they should make up the majority of calories in your diet:

* The recommended daily intake for swimmers is 6g to 10g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight. For a 60kg person (9stone 6lbs) this equates to 360-600g of carbohydrates per day. * A medium sweet potato has 26g carbs, bowl of pasta (45g), medium banana (19g carbs), cooked chickpeas (22g)

* The only carbs eaten outside of training should be complex eg sweet potatoes, wholegrains, vegetables (spinach, broccoli) and some fruits.

* Simple carbs (or simple sugars) are fast digesting carbs that quickly raise your blood sugar. Found in white bread, pastas, white potatoes, sweets, cakes and some fruits. They are not all bad, especially for athletes. After a hard training session, it's these simple sugars that are digested very easily and quickly by the body that starts the whole recovery/muscle growth process quicker.

* Stick with natural forms of simple carbs such as fruits (eg bananas) or white potatoes which also provide other nutrients and fibre as opposed to highly processed foods.

Proteins builds, maintains and repairs muscle and other body tissue. It also stabilizes blood sugar levels to keep energy and endurance stable.

* Aim for protein with every meal to help the muscles recover

* Choose lean sources of meat, turkey, chicken, & fish

* Eggs, chick peas, lentils, tofu, soya, nuts and seeds are good vegetarian options

* Aim for 0.8-1.8g of protein per kg bodyweight, eg a 60kg person would need 48-108g protein daily depending on activity levels

* Turkey breast 22g protein

* 1 egg 6g protein

* 1 cup of chickpeas 7.3g protein

* Bananas satisfy both protein and carb needs!

Fats helps you absorb vitamins and produce important hormones as well as insulating the body and protecting the body from dehydration.

* It's important to have good fats in your daily diet. They're essential for growth and development, especially to help the brain and nervous system develop correctly

* Good fats include fish oils, olive oil, nut butters, almonds, walnuts, brazils, seeds, and avocado.

* Lower the amount of saturated and trans fat as these slow the body down and prevent it working to its maximum during training. Healthy fats from plant oils are best.

Breakfast Ideas

These can be hard especially after 2 hours training. Avoid sugary cereals, opt for porridge, nut based granola, scrambled egg, wholegrain bread. In a hurry? Try a banana and some nuts, yogurt, fruit & seeds or pre-make a sandwich the night before.

Dinner Ideas

Getting in late from training can be tricky but try pasta or baked potatoes (sweet potatoes are better) with tuna, beans & veg, or a lean meat salad may do. Generally opt for whole grain pasta & rice, Quinoa, beans, lentils, lean protein (chicken, turkey, tofu, fish). Good fats (avocado, olive or coconut oil). Finish with fruit or smoothies.

Lunch Ideas

Smaller versions of dinner, lean meat, leafy greens, vegetables, avocado. Salads with a light dressing such as balsamic vinaigrette.

Snack Ideas

Avoid highly processed foods, opt for fruits, houmous, vegetables, healthy fats. Good Carb/Protein recovery options: Fruit smoothies, flavoured milk, banana, fruit salad, Greek yogurt, baked beans on wholegrain toast, lean meat sandwich with salad.

When to eat: Do not experiment with new foods on race days. Have a balanced meal if you can up to 3 hours before training/racing then a small healthy snack 1 to 2 hours before. To help the muscles recover and restore glycogen levels for recovery ideally eat a snack within 30 mins of exercise - these foods should be proteins and carbohydrates such as a banana, cereal bar, crackers and nut butter & juice, yoghurt and fruit and eat again within 1-2 hours (a more substantial snack/meal).

What to eat at a gala or race: Good ideas include trail mix, plain pasta, almonds (handful), almond butter & jam sandwich, slices of turkey or chicken, berries/apples/kiwi/grapes, carrot sticks and houmous.

Avoid these foods leading up to a race/gala: Large amounts of heavily processed carbs eg pastas, pizzas, sugary foods, cakes (the high rush of blood sugar can clog the digestion system). Crisps offer virtually no nutrition, swap for dried fruit or vegetable crisps. Bought Protein bars can be full of sugar so try homemade options instead. Jelly sweets in between races are not bad as they can provide a quick boost but avoid large amounts.


* Fluids are important not only to prevent dehydration but to optimize performance. They help to regulate body temperature & replace lost fluids through training & racing.

*The amount of fluid depends on many factors including age, intensity of exercise & environmental factors.

*Before activity ideally drink a minimum of half your body weight (lbs) in oz each day eg 120lb (55kg) person needs 60oz to maintain normal cell function. When you take training and exercise into account more hydration may be needed to replace fluid lost through sweat (yes you do sweat in a pool!)

* Activities up to 1 hour, water is all you need to hydrate

* Activities up to 2 hours, drinks with 6-8% carbohydrate help rehydrate and replenish electrolyte stores. Young people should not drink energy drinks, they contain high amounts of caffeine and are not suitable in most circumstances. Also, ready-made drinks full of sugar and fizzy drinks can be especially bad before competition and may cause an upset stomach. Coconut water is the most natural electrolyte option you can buy (choose one without added sugar).

* A Homemade electrolyte is easy and cheap to make - 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1/2 cup water, pinch of salt, squeeze lemon juice.

Finally - SLEEP is key to great performances and recovery which your body needs from all the hard training (physical, mental and nutrition) especially as a growing and developing young athlete. Make sure they know and understand that sleep is an important factor to their training.



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