By Lindsay Baker, Ph. D.
At the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) we receive many questions from parents of young athletes about nutrition and proper fueling. As a mom, I understand the concerns of a parent and am tuned in to the misconceptions many parents have when it comes to what youth athletes need to perform their best.
At GSSI, we've studied athletes of all ages and skill levels. We have our own physiology, performance, biochemistry and exercise sensory labs to make sure we understand what athletes need for optimal hydration and performance. Here are a few frequently asked questions about fueling young athletes so they are healthy, safe and have an athletic edge:
1. My daughter eats three healthy meals. Is she getting enough nutrition to fuel her full day of school and sports?
Three healthy meals is a great start, but youth athletes have additional needs specific to fueling before, during and after activity:
- Before sports: It is important for your daughter to start her practices and games well-hydrated and properly fueled. It's actually common for kids to show up to their events dehydrated.2, 9 Drinking water or sports drinks and monitoring urine color throughout the day will help her gauge her hydration level. Well-hydrated athletes have pale yellow urine that looks something like lemonade. Dehydrated urine is darker, more like apple juice. It's also important to remember that active kids need carbohydrates to fuel the brain and muscles. After-school practice is often scheduled up to 3 - 4 hours after lunch so there is a need to refuel with carbohydrate like a bagel, granola bar, fruit, or Gatorade Prime 01 before exercise.
- During practice: It is important to stay hydrated and also consume carbohydrates to fuel working muscles. Gatorade is scientifically formulated to meet the hydration and carbohydrate needs of athletes during exercise. Plus, its flavor and sodium content enhance palatability and stimulates the drive to drink - resulting in better voluntary fluid consumption to maintain hydration compared to plain water.8, 10 Athletes should aim to consume enough fluids to offset their sweat losses during exercise. Your daughter can gauge how much she needs to drink by measuring her body weight before and after exercise. If she weighs less after activity than before activity, she didn't drink enough to replace her sweat loss from activity. If her weight increased after activity, she consumed too much fluid during activity.
- After exercise: Athletes need to rehydrate and refuel their bodies. Drinking fluid (about 16 oz for every pound of sweat lost during activity) and consuming protein and carbohydrates is recommended to help the body recover and be ready for the next practice or competition.1 Consuming protein after exercise helps jump-start recovery by promoting muscle protein synthesis. A turkey sandwich, yogurt, low-fat milk, or Gatorade Recover 03 are good options for your daughter. Gatorade Recover 03 provides protein, fluids and carbohydrates to help athletes with muscle recovery immediately after exercise and, it doesn't require refrigeration, so it is safe to consume after being in a gym bag all day.
2. My son is practicing and competing in an air conditioned gym so he isn't exposed to extreme heat conditions. Does he still have a need for sports drinks?
Yes, sports drinks are important to sports performance indoors and outdoors, no matter what the temperature. This is because athletes need the carbohydrates in sports drinks to fuel their active bodies. Research shows that compared with water, a sports drink such as Gatorade helps prevent fatigue and maintain performance in various indoor or cool-weather sports.3, 4, 5, 6, 7 In addition, your son still loses sweat in cool conditions, especially if the exercise is fast-paced, such as in many team sports. For example, one study showed that 12-15 yr old boys lost about 30-40 oz of sweat during a one-hour simulated indoor basketball game. The players' basketball performance improved when they drank Gatorade instead of water.3
3. How can I help my sons play their best during the entire practice or game? I notice that they often lose steam during the second half.
During your sons' practices and games they are burning carbohydrates to fuel their active muscles and they are also losing water through sweating. Your sons need to replace these losses with a sports drink such as Gatorade that is scientifically formulated with water, electrolytes, and carbohydrates to help athletes rehydrate and refuel during activity. Research shows that when youth athletes consume a carbohydrate drink they are better able to maintain their performance after exercising for 90 minutes compared to when they only drink water.7
4. I don't want my young athlete to drink sugared drinks, so should I make sure she avoids sports drinks?
There is a misconception that sports drinks like Gatorade have unnecessary sugar and calories. Gatorade actually has 50 calories and 14 g of sugar (i.e., carbohydrate) per 8 ounce serving. This is about half the calories of an equal size serving of fruit juice, regular soda or skim milk. The carbohydrate or sugar content of Gatorade offers functional benefits and are scientifically formulated to provide the right amount of energy to fuel working muscles and deliver a performance benefit that water does not provide. A number of studies demonstrate that the carbohydrate in Gatorade enhances performance in sports and exercise.3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Dr. Lindsay Baker is a Senior Scientist working in the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI). Her research areas of interest include thermoregulation, dehydration, sodium balance, and exercise/sport performance. She holds a doctorate degree in Kinesiology from Penn State, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnston, where she played NCAA Division II basketball and ran for the track and cross-country teams
1. American Dietetic Association; Dieticians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine, Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41:709-731.
2. Bergeron, M.F., J.L. Waller, and E.L. Marinik. Voluntary fluid intake and core temperature responses in adolescent tennis players: sports beverage versus water. Br. J. Sports Med 40:406-410, 2006.
3. Dougherty KA, Baker LB, Chow M, Kenney WL. Two percent dehydration impairs and six percent carbohydrate drink improves boys basketball skills. Med Sci Sports Exerc 38:1650-1658, 2006.
4. Horswill CA, Curby DG, Bartoli WP, Stofan JR, Murray R. Effect of Carbohydrate Intake During Wrestling Practice on Upper-Body Work in Adolescents. Ped Exerc Sci 18:470-482, 2006.
5. Menzel KL, Loyo JJ, Martin JC, Coyle EF. Maximal power in football players is increased by full fluid replacement and fatigue reduced by carbohydrate beverages. FASEB J 13:A1050, 1999.
6. Riddell MC, Bar-Or O, Schwarcz HP, Heigenhauser GJ. Substrate utilization in boys during exercise with [13C]-glucose ingestion. Eur J Appl Physiol 83:441-448, 2000
7. Riddell MC, Bar-Or O, Wilk B, Parolin ML, Heigenhauser GJF. Substrate utilization during exercise with glucose and glucose plus fructose ingestion in boys ages 10-14 yr. J Appl Physiol 90:903-911, 2001.
8. Rivera-Brown AM, Gutiérrez R, Gutiérrez JC, Frontera WR, and Bar-Or O. Drink composition, voluntary drinking, and fluid balance in exercising, trained, heat-acclimatized boys. J Appl Physiol 86:78-84, 1999.
9. Stover, E.A., J. Zachwieja, J. Stofan, R. Murray, and C.A. Horswill. Consistently high urine specific gravity in adolescent American football players and the impact of an acute drinking strategy. Int. J. Sport Med. 27:330-335, 2006.
10. Wilk B and Bar-Or O. Effect of drink flavor and NaCL on voluntary drinking and hydration in boys exercising in the heat. J Appl Physiol 80:1112-1117, 1996.