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Fueling your adolescent athlete

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Heat, humidity, and tough workouts can all be a part of your adolescent’s sports training program. Learn how proper nutrition and hydration help them play well.

School still might be out for some, but many teen athletes are already busy with fall sports practices. And knowing what and when to eat and drink can help them be on top of their game. Your teen’s schedule might seem more like a pro athlete’s workout schedule with two-a-days, strength-training programs, and speed training. However, these are often building blocks of teen athletes’ training for sports. Fueling the Adolescent Athlete contains useful information on how they can fuel their bodies before, during, and after practice.

Fueling comes in two forms: what teen athletes eat to provide energy and what they drink to help stay hydrated. Eating nutrient-packed meals and snacks before, after, and even during practices and games is essential for optimal performance. The right balance of carbohydrates and protein work together to fuel and build muscles.

Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. It’s often difficult for adolescent athletes to stay hydrated in heat and humidity, but drinking regularly and keeping an eye on their urine color can be helpful.

For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC’s Family Nutrition section.

Exercise and breathing in summer

Exercising outside on hot, humid summer days might do more harm than good. Find out how to beat the heat!

Exercising outdoors can be uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy when it’s hot and humid, but there are ways to work out through the weather woes. You’re more likely to breathe faster and deeper and through your mouth—bypassing your nose’s natural filtration system—on hot days. You also risk greater exposure to air pollutants (such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone) that can inflame your respiratory system. However, the risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors.

So, plan ahead before exercising outside. And limit your exposure to pollutants, especially on days and in conditions when pollution is bad.

  • Avoid exercising in heavy-traffic areas, such as along highways and during rush hour.
  • During warmer months, exercise earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when ozone levels and temperatures aren’t as high.
  • Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine when it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days aren’t healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory conditions.
  • Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
  • Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.

Peak nutrition in cold weather

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Just because the outside temperature is dropping doesn’t mean your performance has to tumble too.

Daily exposure to cold weather increases your nutritional needs. But if you only PT outside for an hour or so a day, workout in a gym, and spend the rest of your time indoors, your daily food and fluid needs don’t change much—even when it’s cold outside. If you’re training in the cold for long periods of time, such as during field deployment or cold weather operations, here are a few ways to help maintain peak performance:

  • Calories. Moving through snow and icy terrain while wearing heavy gear causes your body to use more energy. Consume three to four standard MREs or three MCW/LRP rations per day to meet your energy needs. (At times you may have to force yourself to eat.)
  • Carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s first choice for energy. When your caloric needs increase, you’ll need to eat more carbs. Be sure to eat high-carb foods such as rice, noodles, bread, First Strike Bar, fruit or sports bars, crackers, granola, pretzels, and carb-fortified drink mixes from your MRE or MCW/LRP rations. Store snacks in your pockets so you can fuel on the go, between meals, and before bed.
  • Hydration. Yes, you can still get dehydrated in the cold. Cold temperatures increase your fluid loss through increased urine output, breathing, and sweating (due to insulated clothing and intensity and duration of exercise). Fuel with fluids (excluding alcohol) even when you’re not thirsty. Make sure to monitor your hydration status by checking your urine color.

Remember, this isn’t the time to start a new diet (such as a low-carb diet) or lose weight, so fuel up to perform well.

 

Chilling out with relaxation drinks?

Relaxation drinks seem like an appealing way to relieve stress, but some are not as harmless as they appear.

If you’re feeling stressed, don’t rely on liquid relaxation products to relieve your tension. While energy drinks are promoted to give you an extra boost, relaxation drinks* are marketed to do just the opposite and help you, well, relax. These products commonly contain the amino acid theanine, as well as several different plant-based ingredients. But the science doesn’t support the use of relaxation drinks to decrease stress or anxiety, and consumers should be cautious of two ingredients: kava and melatonin. Bottom line, if you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the cause, and then use stress management strategies backed by scientific evidence. Read more here.

Marathon recovery

It’s marathon season. How do you recover after pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles?

You’ve just finished a marathon; you’ve put your body through hell, but it’s not over yet. Recovering can be just important as the time you put in training for race day. Taking the right recovery measures can help you avoid lingering soreness and injury and help you get back on the road sooner.

  • Food. After an intense workout such as a marathon, it’s important to refuel with carbs and protein. Think whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and legumes. You’ve probably been thinking about your post-race meal for some time. But before you binge, plan ahead.
  • Hydrate. Drink lots of fluids and eat juicy fruits and vegetables to replace the fluids lost during the race. See HPRC's Hydration Infosheet for hydration guidelines during and after exercise.
  • Massage/Foam roll. Massage by a professional or self-massage (such as foam rolling), increases blood flow and help heal damaged muscles. Foam rolling also helps stretch out tight muscles and decrease soreness.  
  • Exercise. Light exercise (not running) within a day or two after a race can help you recover by increasing blood flow, which brings nutrients into and flushes toxins out of your muscles. Keep it light; go for an easy bike ride, hit the pool, or even go for a light walk.
  • Sleep. Sleep is critical to recovery, not only after a race but for general health and optimal functioning. Sleep is the time when your body restores and repairs, which is especially important after the stress you’ve put it through. Take that extra nap; you deserve it!
  • Ice bath. While this method of recovery hasn’t actually been proven to be effective, sitting in a tub of ice water after a race or hard workout is still a popular method. People report that this makes them feel better, and mental recovery is very important.  

 

Energy drinks and teens don’t mix

Energy drinks have become increasingly popular among teens, but they provide no health benefit and can even be harmful.

It’s cause for concern: Approximately 30% of teens consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Energy drinks provide no nutritional benefit and can actually pose health risks to adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, dehydration, and even death. Teens who consume energy drinks are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking cigarettes, and using drugs and alcohol.

Many of the negative effects associated with energy drinks are due to the large amounts of stimulants in these beverages. Their caffeine content can range from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens:

  • consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day (equal to about 2 cans of caffeine-containing soda or one 8 oz. cup of coffee) and
  • avoid energy drinks altogether.

However, the amount of caffeine teens consume from energy drinks is trending upwards, in part due to heavy marketing with celebrity athletes. Be sure to talk to your teens about the potential problems associated with energy drinks, and make sure they don’t confuse them with sports drinks.

Refuel, rehydrate, recover

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Proper refueling after exercise is just as important as the exercise itself. Optimize your recovery with nutrition so you can stay fit and healthy.

The post-workout recovery phase is just as important as the workout itself. Refueling with the right nutrients can help your body heal damaged muscles, build more muscle, and replace nutrients lost during exercise to prepare you for your next workout or mission. A combination of protein and carbs in a snack is the key for recovery. It’s also important to drink enough fluids for rehydration. The best time to refuel is within 45 minutes after your workout, but if you plan to have a meal within 2 hours, you can skip the snack. Otherwise, you might be eating too many calories, which would spoil all your hard work. For more guidelines and snack ideas, please visit HPRC’s Peak Performance: Refueling.

Fueling for performance

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
HPRC has a new section on frequently asked questions about performance nutrition to help you achieve your performance goals.

Getting the right nutrients at the right time can give you the edge you need when it comes to performance. Are you drinking the right kind of beverage to keep you hydrated? Do you know what to eat after a workout to optimize your recovery? Find answers to these questions and more in HPRC’s FAQS: Fueling for Performance.

And while you’re there, be sure to check out our other Nutrition FAQs for more answers to common questions we’ve received about nutrition.

What should I look for in sports drinks?

Sports drinks are popular products for fueling and hydration during workouts. Learn about what your sports drink should contain and how they stack up to nutrient recommendations for performance.

Sports drinks that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates can be essential to performance by replenishing what is lost during activity, mostly through sweat. For activities less than 60 minutes, water is the best drink to replace lost fluids. If your exercise session or mission exceeds 60 minutes, then sports drinks can be helpful. Follow HPRC’s guidelines for maintaining important nutrients such as fluid, carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium during activity to keep well hydrated and on top of your game. Read more here.

Fueling with fluid

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Fluid is just as important for optimizing performance as carbohydrates and protein, but are you getting enough?

Optimal fueling includes staying well hydrated during exercise. Inadequate fluid intake can lead to dehydration that affects your mental and physical performance.

The first key is staying well hydrated throughout the day. If you start exercising with low fluid intake, you’re already behind. To stay hydrated, drink fluids such as water, 100% juice (diluted), milk or milk alternatives throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in fluid ounces. For example, a 150-lb warrior should drink 75 fluid ounces per day. Foods with high-water content count too! Some examples of high-water-content foods are fruits (especially grapes, watermelon, peaches), vegetables (zucchini, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes), yogurt, sherbet/sorbet, and soup.

Exercise is when you can lose a lot of fluid, especially if your workouts are long, intense, or in heat or humidity. Dehydration—losing just two percent of your body weight—can lead to a decrease in performance. Drink often and drink the appropriate fluid to stay on top of your game. For more information on what to drink and when, see HPRC’s Hydration infosheet.

You may find it challenging to drink enough fluids, but some simple reminders can help. First, keep a water bottle on hand. Just seeing the water bottle is a great reminder to drink more. Also, always drink with meals and snacks. Sick of plain water? Add sliced lemon, lime, mint, cucumber, or fruit to your water. Or add to a water pitcher and keep in your refrigerator. 

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