When you play a sport, do you make sure you have the equipment you need, like your best glove for baseball, cleats for soccer, or big sneakers for basketball? This equipment is great for your game and your body's outsides. But what about helping out your insides, to keep you going and make you strong?
Equipment for your insides doesn't mean swallowing a pair of shin guards, that's for sure: it means getting the right nutrients from foods! Taking care of the insides of your body by eating and drinking the right things can help you become a stronger athlete.
Follow the Food Guide Pyramid
Kids who want to keep their bodies in great shape should follow the suggestions of the Food Guide Pyramid. This pyramid shows all the groups of foods that make up a healthy diet, and how much of the foods should be eaten in one day for the best health. Everybody - even star athletes - needs a variety of foods to get the best nutrition possible. Kids should never carbohydrate load (eat only carbohydrates) or try to eat only one kind of food before a big event. Some adult athletes who are in serious training are able to change their eating habits before a competition by only eating foods from one part of the Food Guide Pyramid, but this isn't for you. That's because kids' bodies are still growing and developing, and they need a wide variety of nutrients (nutrients are the things in food that provide good nutrition). So, even if you hear otherwise from a friend or teammate, the entire Food Guide Pyramid is the way to go to be an awesome athlete.
Don't Diet Unless Your Doctor Says So
If you think that you'd do better in your sport if you went on a diet, think again! And if friends, teammates, or coaches ever suggest that you diet, think twice before taking their advice. Kids have different body shapes and types, so it's hard to tell exactly what your weight should be. In addition, pre-teen or teenage kids who haven't had their growth spurt yet will gain and store some extra body fat. They need this extra fat to prepare them for all the body changes that will happen soon.
If you're concerned about your weight, talk to your doctor. He or she may have you speak with a registered dietitian (a person who specializes in food and nutrition), who can figure out what weight is correct for your height and your age and help you develop a plan if needed.
Bring on the Liquids
If you turn on the TV and watch any sporting event for five minutes, you'll probably see an athlete drinking from a water bottle. That's because water is what your body needs most during an exercise or a competition. When people sweat, they lose lots of water through their skin. Sweating is a good thing, because it helps cool the body down. But for your body to stay strong, that water must be replaced right away to keep you in tip-top shape and keep you from overheating and getting heat exhaustion.
Drinking before, during, and after exercising (or an event) is the best way to stay hydrated. Don't wait until you're thirsty - once you feel thirsty, it means your body already needed liquids for a while. Plain, cold water is the best thing to drink because it's the easiest thing for your body to absorb when it's looking to replace lost fluids. Plus it's easy to find, and it's usually free! Juice that's been diluted with water or sports drinks are also OK. Soda or regular juice isn't, because the carbohydrates in these drinks can give you a stomachache. (Plus, the caffeine in many sodas can make you more dehydrated.) So get yourself a water bottle, fill it up with water, diluted juice, or a diluted sports drink, and drink up.
Fancy Sports Foods and Drinks Aren't Necessary
It doesn't take a lot of looking around to see that there are tons of sports bars, sports gels, supplements, and drinks out there for athletes. And while some of them might have awesome TV commercials or come in cool packages, the truth is that if you are eating right by following the Food Guide Pyramid, they just aren't necessary. Sports bars (also sometimes called energy bars) can be tasty, but they don't provide you with more energy than what you get from healthy food. And they are often very expensive, too. Amino acid powders, protein powders or pills, and other protein supplements give your body no more protein than one serving of meat or a cup of milk. Your body doesn't know that these nutrients are coming from protein supplements - it just treats it like regular protein from food! And you should never, ever take salt tablets - these can hurt the lining of your stomach and lead to dehydration, and they don't help you compete any better. Sports drinks can be OK for drinking when you're exercising or competing. If you like the taste of them better than water, and you feel like you'll drink more because of it, then it's fine - but just remember that these drinks have calories. Water is still the best drink for your body, and it's a lot cheaper, too.
Eat Right for Sports Events
When it's the big day and you're competing, most of the energy that your body gets will come from the foods you've eaten in the last week. But it's still a good idea to eat the best kinds of foods possible on the day of the event. These foods will give you carbohydrate for energy, low to medium amounts of protein, and little fat.
Foods to eat 1 - 2 hours before the event: fruit or vegetable juice, or fruit (plums, melons, cherries, and peaches are especially good bets) Foods to eat 2 - 3 hours before the event: same as foods for 1 - 2 hours before, along with bread, a bagel, or an English muffin (be sure to leave off the margarine or cream cheese - these spreads have fat that can make you feel sick to your stomach when you're competing) Foods to eat 3 or more hours before the event: same as foods for 2 - 3 hours before, plus peanut butter, lean meat, low-fat cheese or yogurt, a baked potato, cereal with low-fat milk, or pasta with tomato sauce
Don't eat anything less than an hour before you exercise, since your stomach should be a little empty. That's because you want your body to use all its energy for your event, not for digesting any food in your stomach! Plus depending on your event, some of the food in your stomach can get thrown around and make you feel sick. And don't eat sugary stuff like sodas or candy bars right before you compete - you might get a little energy boost, but it won't last long enough to give you energy when you really need it.
Being a top athlete means treating your body right by giving it the nutrients it needs. If you follow these rules, you'll be sure to make your body healthier - and better able to win. If you help out your body by putting the right things into it, it will help you back every time!