You’ve been to camp. Family vacation was great. The summer has flown by, and the beginning of the school year is looming. While it’s the time to relax and have fun, summer is also the perfect time for athletes to start getting their bodies ready for their upcoming fall sports. By maintaining and following good nutrition and hydration practices in the off-season, leading up to and throughout pre-season, you’ll be able to work out, train and compete at your best.
While off-season is the time to address any changes you’d like to make as far as body weight or composition, your main focus during pre-season should include making sure you are consuming adequate calories, staying properly hydrated to match sweat loss, as well as recovery nutrition. While it may seem at times all you’re doing is going to practice, eating constantly, and running to the bathroom, adolescents/younger athletes need to account for the fact they are not only playing a sport, but growing and developing as well…both of which require a large amount of energy. According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) for very active 14-18 year old athletes range between 3283 calories to 3804 calories per day. Leaner athletes, or those who tend to burn more calories or those who need to gain weight, may require an additional 500-1000 calories. Consuming that many calories can be a challenge for athletes, but being mindful of your hydration practice, as well as consumption of healthy foods and adequate calories will ensure your success in meeting these demands.
A common mistake made by athletes is over-consuming protein. Protein is most definitely important for building muscle and repair, but excess intake can be detrimental to your diet. Hyper-focusing on protein consumption can negatively affect the balance of carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fat. Athletes’ energy(glucose) stores can be greatly affected when protein displaces needed carbohydrates. Excessive protein can also lead you to consume fewer fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that have necessary nutrients for performance. These nutrients aid in processing the energy needed for physical activity. Gaining your energy and nutrient requirements from whole foods is best, as it is more bio-available. Unless you are dealing with an allergy, intolerance or deficiency, more often than not you should be able to gain all your nutrition through a well balanced diet including lean/vegetable protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats with limited, if any, supplements.
Hydration plays a very large role in your performance. Pre-season typically demands multiple practices a day, often outside in the elements(heat, humidity, etc). Even the smallest amount of dehydration can negatively affect performance. Athletes should consume at least 64-80 ounces of fluid a day-more so if you sweat heavily, wear padding (as in football), or it is hot/humid. Maintaining a balanced state of hydration throughout the day is important, as it prevents entering a practice or training session in a dehydrated state. It is near impossible to properly rehydrate during activity. About two hours before exercise, start consuming about 20 ounces of fluid. About 30 minutes before, drink another 8 ounces and then drink 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes during activity. Any water weight lost during exercise should be recovered by 20-24 ounces of fluid for each pound of water weight lost. The goal with proper hydration, however, is to lose minimal water weight during exercise. This helps ensure an adequate level of hydration for future practices or training sessions.
Adequate fuel before, during, and after training during pre-season, is paramount in maintaining the weight and muscle gains achieved in the off-season. Without proper hydration and nutrition, recovery from hard pre-season training will be insufficient causing the body to be weak heading into the regular season. This can then lead to decreased performance and injury. Preparation starts before you even step foot on the court or field. Commit to become more involved in your dietary practices. Getting enough calories with the right balance of nutrients is key for the maintenance of a healthy, and well-primed body during your season.