An athlete’s performance at game time and even at practice is dependent on proper nutrition. Optimum performance for student athletes requires carbohydrates in the diet to properly fuel both the brain and the body. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. When carbohydrates are eaten, they are broken down into smaller molecules called glucose. Glucose is the body’s usable form of carbohydrate.
When an athlete is engaging in athletic performance, glucose circulating in the blood stream is used first. After this primary energy source is used up, which typically happens after about 60 to 90 minutes of activity, the body begins to rely on glycogen for energy. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose. Glycogen is stored in the liver and the muscles and becomes available for energy upon the depletion of glucose. Glycogen then fuels the remainder of the athletic performance.
Carbs and Muscle
Many young athletes are focused on building muscle to enhance athletic performance. Carbohydrate intake is actually indirectly used to help build muscle! In the absence of enough carbohydrates to be converted and used as glucose or glycogen, the body will begin to break down muscle to be converted to glucose. Not only is this very taxing on the liver (it has to convert the protein to carbohydrate), it also uses some dietary protein (the muscle builders) to do so. With enough carbohydrates in the diet, and leading up to training, protein can then be used for its primary function: building muscle for bigger, faster, and stronger athletes.
The Brain Game
In addition to fueling athletic performance and aiding in building muscle, carbohydrates also fuel the brain and central nervous system! The brain runs almost exclusively on carbohydrate-generated energy (glucose). Without sufficient carbohydrates in the diet, brain function will begin to suffer because it is running on empty. To be able to perform well both in school and in sports, sufficient intake of carbohydrates is critical.
Top Carbohydrate Sources
For a young athlete, carbohydrates should make up roughly 60% of daily caloric intake. There are a wide variety of foods that contain carbohydrates so achieving this goal should be relatively easy. Carbohydrates can be found in foods containing grains such bread, pasta, rice, orzo, couscous, and cereals. Starchy vegetables also contain significant amounts of carbohydrates and include things like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, sweet peas, and beans. All fruits contain carbohydrate and are an excellent healthy addition to any diet. This could include anything from a banana or apple to fruit canned in its juices or fruit juice. Dairy products, in addition to containing protein, also contain carbohydrates. Excellent examples of dairy that would be useful to a youth athlete would be milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese.
Sports Nutrition & Training Work Together
Student athletes looking to increase performance needs to focus on having a well-balanced diet in addition to the many hours spent training. Nutrition and training work together and are dependent on one another for optimum performance. Great nutrition without training and performance suffers. Poor nutrition and both training and game performance suffer. Both excellent natural nutrition and proper training are required to accelerate athletic development and reap the rewards on game day.