Richelle Flanagan (MINDI) and Joanne Corbett (MINDI) give dietary tips, which parents and coaches can use, on how to help young GAA players feel energetic and play to the best of their ability.
Making healthy food choices every day is essential to supporting a young athlete’s growth, strength, and stamina. The following article is to help all you young GAA players to enjoy your sport and play to the best of your ability. Parents and coaches can also use these nutrition tips to help young athletes feel energetic and perform to their best.
Sports Supplements – Do they work?
Sports nutrition scientists recommend that young athletes should not take sports supplements of any kind, unless they are recommended by a doctor to treat a deficiency (for example, iron or calcium) or a medical condition. Sports supplements come in a varietyof forms – sports bars, protein powders, creatine, caffeine, herbal preparations and lots more.
Taking supplements might seem like the quick-fix answer to improve your performance, however, there is no evidence that sports supplements work – in fact, many of them could actually do more harm than good. What does work is well-planned training and recovery, along with eating well to meet your growth and energy requirements.
Focusing on balanced eating and drinking practices is the best way to help you perform at your best.
A healthy meal plan for a young athlete should include:
- Lots of carbohydrate choices, such as grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt, sport drinks/bars/gels.
Remember, carbohydrate is the main fuel source for all sports
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide additional important vitamins and minerals
- 5 servings of a calcium-rich food per day
- Enough protein for growth and to build and repair body tissues. Protein comes from: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk products, pulses (peas, beans, lentils), nuts and seeds
- Moderate to low-fat choices
- Enough fluid for the body’s needs and to prevent overheating
- Enough energy from food (i.e. calories) for exercise and growth
Tip 1: Ensure you are eating enough carbohydrates
Cutting back on carbohydrates or following low-carbohydrate diets is not a good idea for athletes because this reduces the energy supply available for your muscles. This can cause you to feel tired and worn out, which will affect your performance.
Try and include carbohydrate-rich foods with every meal. Below are some ideas of the kind of foods you could eat: Eat larger amounts of nutritious carbohydrate-rich foods. Breakfast cereals, porridge, bread – all types, wholemeal scones, potatoes, pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, pizza bases, pitta bread, oatcakes, sweet potato, root vegetables, sweet corn, beans (e.g. kidney, butter), peas, lentils. Fruit – fresh, dried, stewed, tinned, fruit juice, low-fat smoothies, low-fat yogurt, cereal bars, popcorn
Eat smaller amounts of less nutritious carbohydrate-rich foods Jam, honey, marmalade, boiled sweets, jellies, fizzy drinks, fruit squash, desserts (meringues, ice cream, jelly), cakes, fruit scones, jam sponge, crackers, biscuits, low fat muffins, sports gels, energy bars.
Tip 2: Eat 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
You may be sick of hearing about eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day but you will be even sicker if you miss that final!! Fruit and vegetables are nature’s multivitamins. Increase your fruit and vegetables by following these tips:
Use fruit such as bananas, satsumas, oranges pears or dried fruit (e.g. raisins or apricots) as a snack during training or competition. Your oranges at half-time provide you with carbohydrate to keep your muscles fuelled.
Use fruit as a snack between your meals instead of lots of chocolate bars and crisps. Have a glass of orange juice (100mls) with your breakfast, this not only contains carbohydrate but also provides vitamin C to help absorb iron from your cereal and toast.
Tip 3: Ensure you are getting enough calcium
Teenagers need 5 servings of calcium rich dairy foods daily to build strong bones. Use the table below to add 5 servings of calcium-rich foods into your diet every day. This will provide you the much needed calcium for your growing bones, whilst also providing either carbohydrate and/or protein.
Serving of a calcium-rich food is equal to one of the following
- 30g / 1oz (matchbox size) low-fat cheese such as low fat cheddar, edam or blarney
- Small pot (125g-150g) low-fat yogurt
- 200mls (1/3 pint) low fat milk
- 40g/11/2 oz tinned Sardines
- 250g/9 oz tinned salmon
- 2 large oranges
- 4 tablespoons of canned red kidney beans
Tip 4: Protein for growth and building/ repairing body tissues
Every time you train or play a game your muscles are put under pressure. Eating protein helps to prevent injuries and repair muscle. Many protein-rich foods also provide iron which is important for the transport of oxygen around your body.
Foods that contain good sources of protein include lean red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, baked beans, lentils, butterbean, kidney beans, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese and nuts.
Do I need protein supplements? Most players can get enough protein through a good, balanced diet and choosing a good source of protein twice a day (e.g. sliced meat in lunchtime
sandwich and chicken breast at dinner). It is generally not necessary to take protein supplement drinks or bars. However, it is important to take a carbohydrate and protein-rich snack after a training session that’s hard going and more than an hour long or after a game.
Ideal post training or game snack:
- Sandwich or small roll with 1 slice ham/ chicken/ turkey/ 1 egg/ 30g low-fat cheese
- 2 low-fat fruit yogurts
- 330mls low-fat milk
Remember, your protein foods are your main source of iron. And iron requirements rise dramatically for teenagers because of the increased muscle mass and blood supply.
Furthermore, girls need to replace the iron lost during their periods. You should aim to eat lean red meat two to three times a week – it is the best source of iron you can get! Good sources of Iron. The iron in all of these foods is easily absorbed by the body: Lean red meat, chicken, eggs, oily fish – sardines, salmon, tuna.
Other foods that provide Iron. The absorption of iron from these sources is variable: it can be enhanced by having vitamin C with the meal, and reduced by having tea with the meal:
Cooked eggs Baked beans, chick peas, lentils, broad beans, kidney beans, peas Fortified breakfast cereals Green leafy vegetables – cabbage, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts
Dried fruit & plain nuts
Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. You should try to include some Vitamin C-rich foods with your meals. Vitamin C-rich foods include: Leafy green vegetables (broccoli, spinach,
Kiwi fruit Citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, grapefruit) Tomatoes and tomato based sauces Tip 5: Get your fats right ! Fats are an important part of a healthy diet. Very low-fat diets are not a good idea as fats are essential for your heart, brain and hormones. Fat is needed for lots of different reasons:
- Protecting your body’s organs, such as your kidneys
- Keeping your heart and brain healthy
- Absorbing vitamins A,D, E and K
- Producing certain necessary hormones
A high-fat intake, however, is not ideal for athletes as it increases the risk of gaining weight and can displace intake of nutritious carbohydrates in the diet. Highfat
foods can slow digestion so it’s a good idea to avoid eating these foods for a few hours before and after exercising. If you follow a diet that is too low in fat, it will be difficult to provide your body with enough energy to fuel your training and performance – it is all about eating sensibly to get the balance right. When you think of fat in your diet, it’s important to think of the right type and the right amount. Healthy fats can be found in foods like vegetable oils, oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, and mackerel), nuts, seeds and avocado. Examples of foods which contain the less healthy fats include crisps, pastries and fried foods, you should limit your intake of these kinds of food.
How to reduce unhealthy fat:
- Try not to fry your food
- Grill, boil, steam, braise, stir-fry or microwave
- Stay away from fatty cuts of meat like sausages and battered/breaded meats
- Use leaner cuts of meat
- Trim visible fat from meat and skim fat from stews and casseroles
- Try including lean red meat, chicken, turkey and fish in your diet
What can you do instead?
Use less butter and normal margarine
Use low-fat monounsaturated or polyunsaturated spread. Give mayonnaise a miss Choose low-fat mayonnaise, mustard or chutney on sandwiches Reduce the amount of cream you use Go for low-fat yogurt, or fromage frais Lower your intake of full-fat dairy, especially cheese and cream. Use low-fat milk and yogurt and pick cheeses such as ‘light’ cheddar, edam, blarney, gouda, feta, camembert, cottage or low-fat cheese spread.
Tip 6: Don’t forget about your fluids
When you exercise, fluid loss from sweating can be very high, especially in warm weather. If you don’t replace this fluid, you will become dehydrated, which can make you tired and affect performance.
It is important that you remember to drink plenty of fluids – both before, during and after playing sport, bottle if possible when drinking isotonic drinks, rinse your mouth with water after eating sugary food or drinks and brush your teeth regularly. This will protect your teeth.
Tip 7: Get enough energy from your food (i.e. calories ) for exercise and growth
If you are a very active GAA player then you will probably need more energy from your food (calories) than your friends who are inactive. To get enough energy, use a combination of the carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables, calcium-rich foods and fluids outlined above.
Each day, ensure you: Eat three balanced meals plus three or four healthy snacks each day using all the foods outlined above. Pack portable nutritious snacks and fluids into your training bag