Staying fit

Area students learn about fueling an athlete’s body

COURTNEY HAYDEN/Sun-Gazette Tanya Williams, left, and Catherine O’Neil presented in August to Muncy athletes about the importance of fueling their bodies right.

MUNCY — How athletes train their bodies is just as important as how they fuel them. Tanya Williams, clinical dietitian at Bucknell University and owner of The Nutrition Specialist LLC, and Catherine O’Neil, medical director at Bucknell University, spoke to a group of fall student athletes, parents and coaches about sports nutrition on Aug. 29.

A healthy athlete will be well-fueled, hydrated and rested, O’Neil said at the presentation. Whereas an unhealthy athlete may overtrain, have poor sleep schedules and malnutrition.

Overtraining is when an athlete’s performance decreases or plateaus from lack of consistency performing or when they are training more than they recover, O’Neil said. Overtraining isn’t always talked about with athletes, O’Neil said. When an athlete notices a decline in their performance, they may practice harder, only furthering the cycle.

Key signs of overtraining include an insatiable thirst, decreased motivation, altered resting heart rate and much more, O’Neil said. These signs do not mean that an athlete is out of shape.

The best way to recover from overtraining is through your nutrition, by resting and hydrating, Williams said. When resting, it’s best to eat lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and drink water to recover from overtraining.

“If your body doesn’t get enough time to recover, you’re going to be injured,” O’Neil said.

Athletes also need sleep to help rest, as it gives you energy and can increase your overall performance, O’Neil said. Athletes 7 to 9 years old should sleep 9.5 to 10.5 hours, 10 to 13 years old should sleep for 9 to 10.5 hours and 14 to 21 should sleep for 8.5 to 11 hours.

“If you are injured or if you are ill, you can actually use nutrition to guide you through that process,” Williams added.

An athlete’s performance is connected to how they fuel their bodies. Your fuel comes from the types of foods you eat, and an athlete’s diet typically is 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 15 to 20 percent proteins and 20 to 30 percent fat, Williams said.

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel for movement and recovery, Williams said. There are simple and complex carbs — simple carbs can be white bread, jam or jelly and candy and complex carbs are whole-grain breads, bagels and rice.

Protein helps the body grow and repair and healthy proteins can include beef, chicken, beans and eggs, among many other lean options, Williams said. One’s carb and protein intake is dependant on their age, gender and fitness. You do not have to supplement protein; you can get it all from foods.

“Your body appreciates a piece of meat, an egg, a nut or a seed far better than a protein bar,” she said.

Not only is it important what

athletes eat but it’s also important when they eat their pre-event meals, pre-event snacks, event snacks and a recovery meal.

A pre-event meal should be eaten 3 to 6 hours prior and provides energy, Williams said. This meal would take 3 to 4 hours to digest and should have carbs, a fat and protein. The athlete should know and enjoy the pre-event meal, it’s best not to introduce a new food during this meal. A good pre-event meal could be a peanut butter sandwich.

Athletes also should know and enjoy the pre-event snack, Williams said. The snack should be eaten 15 minutes to one hour before the event, taking about 15 to 30 minutes to digest, as a way to help maintain their energy. A good snack would have carbs, avoid protein, fats and fiber. Dry cereal, pretzels and mini bagels make good pre-event snacks.

An event snack is eaten during breaks to keep an athlete’s energy up — eating a snack every 51 to 30 minutes depending on the activity, Williams said. The event snack will be easy to digest, such as a carb-heavy drink or food. Athletes also should like and enjoy the event snack, not a new food. Throughout the event, the athlete should be hydrating, whether that be with a sports drink or water. The sports drink also provides carbohydrates, and the athletes could eat dry cereal or soft pretzels.

The most important meal for an athlete is their recovery meal to help refuel their muscles, which can help in their next training or practice session, Williams said. Carbs and proteins are best for the recovery meal.

Everyone will consume a different number of calories based on numerous variables — age, sex, what sport an athlete may be playing and their position, what season it is, what clothes you are wearing, how often or long you practice, Williams said. On average, your body needs about 476 calories to fuel your liver, 476 for your kidneys to work and about 200 calories to run your heart. For a 15- to 18-year-old female, she would need to consume 2,200 calories to fuel her body.

“It doesn’t matter how good your shoe is if you’re not feeding them the right foods,” Williams said. “These kids are still growing, so if we are restricting their calories, we can impact their growth, especially at this time and age.”

Athletes also have to stay hydrated, especially football players, with cramping, Williams said.

“When we are talking about getting an athlete at a true hydration state, we need an electrolyte beverage, and if it’s extremely hot and muggy and its an extremely long practice, or if our athletes are wearing headgear, our athletes should be drinking electrolytes to encourage appropriate and proper hydration rates,” Williams said.

Supplements can now be easily accessed by high school athletes, and unlike college athletes, they are not tested for their supplement usage, Williams said. Supplements can be a drink or vitamins. Sports supplements are not regulated, FDA-approved or tested on students under 18 years old. Supplements are tested on males over the age of 18.

This is not to be confused with vitamins and minerals, as a daily teen, men’s or women’s multivitamin, Williams said.

By staying clean, having a normal sleep schedule and resting while training, it all helps contribute to a healthy lifestyle, O’Neil said. If a student athlete is not feeling well, reach out to your coaches and parents.

“What you put in, you get out, and that has everything to do with food as well,” Williams said. “It’s a critical time for growth and development, and we have a huge opportunity to make it the best time versus one of the worst times.”