I am enjoying seeing many young athletes in my office right now. The timing is perfect because we have 2-3 weeks to try out some fueling strategies before they need to be implemented into the fall school/practice schedule. Having time to try things out when young athletes are less scheduled allows them to better focus on what they would like to eat and what works with their schedule and also helps them game-plan how to transport and store their preferred foods. So, if you have a young athlete in the house that is going back to any level of school/practice this fall, work with them to hone and perfect these four fueling strategies.
In my work with athletes, I see two basic problem patterns when it comes to breakfast: either the athlete doesn't eat it at all or the athlete eats something too small for their needs, such as a banana or one piece of toast. Breakfast is the most important meal because it sets the stage for the entire day in terms of both mental energy and muscle energy. Fortunately, I have two great blog articles about breakfast. Last's week's blog (5 Ways to Eat Breakfast Within 30 Minutes of Waking Up) outlines multiple breakfast options depending on your particle morning routine. The second blog article is especially for my athletes who have early-morning practices that make it difficult to eat. Check out "It's Too Early to Eat - Help!" if this applies to you or your athlete.
Eating During School
I have met no student athletes that have their breakfast, lunch and dinner so close to one another that they need zero snacks during the school day. So, basically that means every athlete reading these needs at least an after school snack (next section) and possibly a morning snack if it will be longer than 3 hours between breakfast and lunch. This sounds easy enough, but school are putting more rules into play on eating. So, figure out in which class a snack will be needed and contact that teacher to see what is or is not allowed. If eating during class is a no-no, how about eating during passing period? Once athletes figure out when and where the snack is needed, it is easier to plan what that snack will consist of. Attend a peanut- or nut-free school? Remember that pumpkin and sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter are all still great shelf-stable protein/healthy fat options.
Eating Before Practice
Following the rule above, if there will be longer than 3 hours between lunch and dinner, there must be a snack. Combine that with the fact that you should be eating within the 1-2 hours before working out and most athletes will need a pre-workout snack. This is often easier said than done because so many athletes have sensitive stomachs when it comes to pre-workout eating. Therefore, athletes should be trying out different options and combinations now - before their summer workout sessions. Remember there should be a source of carbohydrate (grains or fruit) and a source of protein (nuts, nut butters, animal meats, cheese, yogurt, milk, etc..) to best the muscle before a workout. Using a granola bar? Stick to one that has about 10 grams of protein and 2-4x more carbohydrate than protein.
If athletes will go right from practice to dinner, the post-workout snack is typically unnecessary. However, some athletes eat dinner before practice or finish practice a couple of hours before dinner. These are the athletes that need something post-workout. But again - trial and error is important here. While liquids such as chocolate milk, Ensure or Boost are perfect options, they are useless if there is A) no way to keep the liquid cold or B) the athletes doesn't like and therefore will not drink them. Model your post-workout snack similar to your pre-workout snack, except increase to 15-30 grams protein (and still maintain 2-4x carbohydrate grams).
Putting in a little practice with fueling strategies now will save a lot of stress and poor performance once the fall season hits. Good luck!