Jan 19, 2017
Timing It Right
Susan Crowell

To get the most out of what they eat, athletes need a daily eating plan. Spreading meals and snacks properly throughout the day and athletes should aim for three meals and three snacks per day to maintain their energy levels and concentration.

This begins with breakfast, which should include sources of both carbohydrate and protein. A go-to breakfast option for many high school athletes is cereal and juice. However, the high amount of carbohydrate in this meal will spike their blood sugar, causing energy levels to crash about 45 minutes later. Adding protein with Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, string cheese, cottage cheese, or peanut or nut butter will give breakfast the staying power athletes need.

To maintain energy between meals, I encourage athletes to bring healthy snacks to school, such as fruit, peanut butter or nut butter sandwiches or crackers, healthy trail mix, string cheese, and protein bars. They can eat them between classes and before their after-school practices or games.

When it comes to meal timing before and after competitions, I encourages athletes to start early. Timing of meals and snacks will vary depending upon the athlete’s toleration to food before the event and should be adjusted accordingly. Here is a sample pre- and post-competition fueling plan:

• Four to five hours before the event: The athlete has a big meal consisting of 100 to 200 grams of carbs and 20 to 30 grams of protein. A good option is two cups of whole grain pasta with one cup of marinara sauce with meat, one breadstick, one cup of vegetables, one apple or one cup of fruit, and 16 ounces of low fat or skim milk.

• Two to three hours before the event: The athlete eats a lighter meal of 30 to 40 grams of carbs and seven to 14 grams of protein. This could include a turkey, tuna, or chicken breast sandwich with fruit and water.

• Half-hour to an hour before the event: The athlete has a small snack of 15 to 30 grams of carbs and no protein or fat, as these nutrients take a long time to be digested. A good choice is a piece of fruit or pretzels with eight to 16 ounces of water.

• Fifteen to 60 minutes after the event: The athlete gets a recovery snack or meal to replace lost fuel, repair damaged muscle, and stimulate new muscle tissue. A snack could be crackers with nut butter, low fat chocolate milk, and a banana, while a meal could consist of a rice bowl with beans, chicken, salsa, and avocado, and milk.

Susan Crowell, MS, RD, LD, CDE, is a Registered Dietitian for HealthPartners Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn., and serves as an advisor to PowerUp, a community-wide youth health and wellness initiative. She has been working with the Stillwater School District's nutrition counseling program since 1999.

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