Frequently Asked Questions
Coaches & Staff
Performance Nutrition for Track Athletes
The nutrients--the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water--are teammates that work together to provide good nutrition. Just as each team member carries out different tasks during a game, each nutrient performs specific functions in your body. A lack of just one nutrient is a disadvantage to your body. Your body needs all these nutrients all of the time, so the foods you eat should supply them every day. Just because you are not hungry does not necessarily mean that your body has all the nutrients it needs. You can fill up on foods that contain mostly carbohydrates and fats, but your body still has basic needs for proteins, minerals, and vitamins.
Five Main Food Groups:
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group (3-5
servings daily) 1
serving is an 8 ounce glass of milk, 8
ounces of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of natural, unprocessed cheese.
Because of their rapid growth and development and higher levels of physical activity, teen athletes should eat the higher levels of servings recommended from each food group. An active track athlete could easily eat eleven servings of breads/cereals and four to five servings of the other food groups each day. Some athletes may even need more than the maximum servings recommended. Eating the maximum number of servings recommended from all five-food groups provides about 3,000 calories.
In no instance should you eat less than the minimum servings for any food group. You need the minimum servings to supply a base level of essential nutrients and calories required for good health. Consuming the minimum servings listed above will supply about 1,600 calories, which is the minimum a teen girl should take in. Teen boys need at least 2,000 calories a day and thus need more than the minimums given.
Athletes need plenty of starchy foods because, along with proper training, these foods cause muscle and liver cells to store glycogen. Glycogen is a vital energy source for most sports. When muscle cells run out of glycogen, muscle fatigue sets in and performance suffers. Foods high in starch include: pastas, spaghetti, noodles, ravioli, beans, rice, potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, sweet potatoes, bread, bagels, muffins, pancakes, waffles and cereals.
Unfortunately, many girl athletes think of starchy foods as "fattening" and cut out breads, cereals, and starchy vegetables. The results are predictable: low glycogen, low energy, and poor performance. The girl athlete who wants top performance must eat starchy food so that she goes into an event with glycogen reserves. Starchy foods are not fattening in themselves. Eating more than the body needs and not exercising is the main cause of obesity. America is currently experiencing an epidemic of overweight kids who eat too much junk food and do not exercise. However, the girl athlete who is training properly shouldn't worry about extra weight from starchy foods.
High Energy Foods For Athletes:
perfect snack-One of the highest sources of potassium.
Nutrient Needs of Athletes:
Salt needs can be met by increased use of salt on foods. The use of salt tablets is not recommended. Salt tablets can cause stomach cramps. The tablets hold water in the stomach longer and can actually cause water to be pulled back into the intestinal tract and away from body tissues where the water is needed most.
To Eat Before A Meet:
Some athletes like poached eggs, toast, and juice as a light pre-meet meal. Some prefer breakfast cereal with milk, yogurt, a bagel or toast, and juice. All-day events such as track meets present special problems. Consuming several high-starch mini-meals or snacks, accompanied by ample fluids, is a winning strategy for these situations. Snacks you might consider bringing to the all-day meet include fig bars, dried fruit, granola bars, bananas, apples, oranges, grapes and other fruit, carrots, peanut butter sandwiches. For the meet, stay away from candy, chips and most of the junk food sold in convenience stores or in the concession stand at the track! Bring your own high-energy snacks! At all costs avoid sugary foods such as candy or honey before a meet. Sweets can cause rapid swings in blood-sugar levels and result in low blood sugar and less energy.
Keeping Energy Levels Up:
One of the least-recognized nutrition problems of
the young athlete is simply not eating enough. Extracurricular activities may
make life so busy that you simply don't take the time to eat. After-school
practice sessions may be so exhausting that you feel too tired to eat. But you
must take the time to eat the right foods. Don't let fatigue caused by poor
eating hurt your performance. Another problem of the young athlete is not eating
the right kinds of foods--particularly foods high in starch. Eating a
balanced diet that has plenty of starch keeps muscle energy up.
Participating in sports can drastically increase your food energy needs. Increased physical activity calls for more food calories. Also, when you train, you increase muscle tissue relative to fat tissue, and muscle tissue requires more calories than fat tissue. Going out for sports can easily increase the daily calorie needs of a teen athlete by 2,000 or more. A teenage athlete on a track team may consume 5,000 or more calories daily.
The amount of food you need depends on your age, sex, weight, and activity level. A larger athlete requires more calories that a smaller one because more energy is needed to move more mass over the same distance. You usually burn more calories in a practice session than in actual competition because more total work is usually done during practice. However, the rate at which calories are burned for short periods of time may be greater from short bursts of intense activity during competition. Activity levels vary among sports as well as with the position played in a sport.
The glycogen stores you have available right before an event are the result of how you've eaten and exercised for the past several days. Glycogen stores in the body are increased by rest or light levels of exercise and high levels of carbohydrates (particularly starch) in the diet. Glycogen stores in the body are lowered by high levels of exercise and low levels of starch in the diet. Once glycogen stores are exhausted, it takes at least two days to fully restore them. Although the pre-meet meal can stabilize blood sugar levels and provide some energy, don't look to the pre-meet meal to provide the bulk of your energy for the meet. You should eat a nutritious, varied diet containing plenty of starchy foods every day. Give starches particular emphasis two days before the event.
Here are some tips to help you keep your glycogen reserves up--particularly before a track meet:
Whole foods like cereals, breads, and pastas with
a glass of milk are better for total recovery than pure carbohydrate
supplements. A mix of whole foods contains proteins, minerals, and vitamins in
addition to carbohydrates. You need these other nutrients along with high levels
of carbohydrates for a complete, rapid recovery. . Remember, whole foods, such
as breads and cereals, when eaten with beverages like milk promote more rapid
recovery than pure carbohydrates alone.To assist in total, rapid recovery, you should
consume nutritious foods and drinks as soon as you can tolerate them after an
event or workout. Ideally, you should eat food within two hours afterward.
However, if you can't tolerate eating that soon, choose what's comfortable for
Young athletes often have questions about foods high in fat and sugar, such as candy, soda, and desserts. These foods are called "empty calorie" foods because they're usually high in calories but contain few nutrients. Don't eat many of these foods but they are ok in moderation. Stay away from these foods on meet day. Get your energy from foods that supply ample proteins, vitamins, and minerals as well as calories.Many athletes mistakenly believe that high-sugar foods will give them quick energy before a game or an event. High-sugar foods, such as candy or honey, should be avoided before a game or an event. Sweets can cause rapid swings in blood sugar, make you feel tired, and decrease performance.
For Top Performance:
There are many different commercial sports drinks
available. They contain varying kinds and amounts of sugars and electrolytes.
Whether they offer advantages over plain water depends on the situation. Many
times, plain water is all that an athlete needs. When activities last an hour or
more, however, some sport drinks may offer advantages both for carbohydrate and
Water is a basic necessity for all life. Without it, life can't exist. Even when water is limited, living organisms suffer. You are no exception. For young athletes like yourself, not enough water means you can't do your best. It can even cause serious health problems. Our blood circulates like an ocean within us. The water in blood helps carry nutrients and energy to our body cells. It also carries waste products away from our cells for excretion from our body. Water helps regulate our body temperature, too--an important factor for all of us.
As a young athlete, you have a special need for water. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, even if you aren't thirsty. A track athlete in training needs at least 2 liters of water a day!! Keep your fluid levels up! When you participate in a sport like track, you burn a lot of food energy (called calories). Some of that unleashed energy powers muscles. But some of that energy is released as heat. Water keeps you from overheating. Sweating and evaporation from the skin cools you down. However, water is lost in the cooling process. That can be dangerous if the water is not replenished. If you run low on water, your body can overheat, like a car that is low on cooling fluid. Losing just two percent of the body's water can hurt performance. A five percent loss can cause heat exhaustion. A seven percent to ten percent loss can result in heat stroke and death. Dehydration can kill.Young athletes have a lot of growing to do. New muscle tissue must be made. Bones need to grow rapidly. And with all of the physical activity, some tissues need to be repaired. All of this metabolic activity requires an abundance of nutrients and energy carried to body tissues and waste products carried away. Water allows all of this to happen. Water is vital for your body's growth, repair, and physical activity.
Just satisfying thirst is not enough!!
Thirst is your body's signal that you need to drink water. By the time you feel thirsty, you may have already lost one percent to two percent of your water--and that's enough to hurt performance. But just drinking enough to satisfy your thirst may not supply your body's needs. If you drink only enough to satisfy your thirst, your body may take up to 24 hours to fully rehydrate its cells and regain maximum performance.
When you participate in a sporting event or practice session, follow these guidelines:
Conditioned athletes need more water--not less. The conditioned athlete is able to store and burn more energy in a shorter time. That means your body releases more heat, requires more cooling, loses more water, and needs more water to replenish its stores. Also, you may have increased your sweating response, which means you lose even more water. As an in-shape athlete, you need more water than other people.
When you feel exhausted and hot during a workout or game, drinking large amounts of water very rapidly may cause discomfort or stomach cramps. But that is not a good reason to restrict water. Drinking moderate amounts at frequent intervals is the best strategy during competition or practice. About one cup (six to eight ounces) of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes during an activity is about right for most athletes. Some athletes can drink a bit more than this at each interval. Cool water is best and helps absorb body heat. And it empties from the stomach into the intestine at a fast rate, which allows it to be absorbed rapidly into the body.
Most of the weight you lose during an event or
training session is water lost through sweat. Of course, you lose some weight
when your body burns materials for energy. For example, the glycogen stored in
liver and muscle cells is used for energy, which results in some weight loss.
Some fat and protein is burned for energy, too, and that results in additional
weight loss. However, most of the weight you lose during strenuous physical
activity is water lost through perspiration.
Sources and Further