My passion for youth sport impacts everything I engage with. As a part of my role consulting with the Olympic Committee I have in the past prepared USA teams to go to the Youth Olympic Games. Part of the preparation was delivering education regarding the impact nutrition has on performance. It shocked me to realise how little knowledge of nutrition young athletes have, even at this level. This is particularly true considering the consistent evidence found regarding the vital nature of quality nutrition for performance. The US does have different standards to us and culturally their focus is mostly all about convenience. The majority of foods there contain sugar and the list of ingredients is as long as the length of your arm. Even with these differences to our food standards it did have me thinking about how little our UK youth understand natural foods and especially when it supports their sport.
Youth Nutrition Affects Performance
On the youth nutrition programme we looked at the basics: Protein, Carbs, Fats and Hydration. We covered some surprising facts on performance. For example a 3% dehydration results in an 8% loss of speed and a massive 10% loss in strength! When you consider the impact of this on young athletes, it can be the difference that makes the difference.
I think we all know inherently that processed and refined foods are bad for us, but do we know why?
During processing the natural vitamins and minerals are lost, meaning artificial ones are added which our bodies find hard to utilise. The preservatives and artificial sweeteners that are added are not good for the body. In addition we often see that people who eat processed food are typically overfed and undernourished. Undernourished for the reasons I just mentioned meaning that they tend to need to eat more to consume the micronutrients needed…becoming overfed. It’s a viscous cycle that needs breaking in anyone’s diet.
For a young sportsperson who has a growing body, staying away from these products and sticking as much as possible to natural whole foods, colourful vegetables and hydrating fruits is essential. These foods have the micronutrients that our body can use to help us grow and stay healthy now and in the future. It is not just about health now in youth nutrition but also providing the body with the building blocks for future health and stacking everything in their favour for the long term.
Excess Sugar in Drinks
As a father and coach I recognise how important it is for us to educate our youth in basic nutrition and how it affects the body, how it can aid performance and importantly recovery. I always see kids after sports grabbing the high in sugar sports drinks but not many of our youth playing sport actually diminish their glycogen stores in the first place. The result is that the level of sugar and carbs in these drinks is not used. So where does the excess go? The answer is that it gets turned into fat. If you think of our bodies glycogen stores as a bowl being filled with liquid as fuel, as we function or become active that liquid drops as it’s being used. Any carbs we eat refills the liquid up. If the bowl starts to over spill the body takes that and stores it as fat. So we have to be careful how we replace that fuel, too much too soon then it has detrimental effect on us. My advice is to teach the young sports person the benefits of whole foods and look for the simple natural options i.e water and fruit. Most of the time the body will thank you for it and so will your wallet!
How can we help?
At The Athlete Factory in Chester we recognise the importance of developing youth sports and fitness. We have youth academy memberships available as well as offering sports camps for school teams ranging in length from a day upwards and can include nutrition education within these.
Contact Matt@theathletefactory.global for more information.