The sun bounces off the hood of your new car, your left arm hung casually out the window as you cruise down the highway, the ocean to your right, the mountains to your left. You’ve been driving straight for four hours, making good time.
You smile as you turn up the radio and shift into overdrive.
It’s unfortunate that this trip is all in your mind - your left arm and shoulder burning from holding your thumb up in the air as you march down the highway hoping for a kind stranger to pick you up and drop you off at a gas station.
You also don’t own a new car, but if you did, you swear you’d remember to fuel it up properly.
This is the third post in the Minor Hockey Player’s Guide to In-Season Nutrition, Health & Wellness.
Kids are more of a sport utility vehicle than a sports car, but no matter what type of activity they’re involved in, they won’t go far without proper fuel.
Adults believe that since kids can eat differently and not gain weight immediately like they do, that it’s alright to fuel them with less-than-optimal food. The problem here is that while children may not pack on unwanted pounds around their mid-section, the healthy growth they should be enjoying is stalled without a balanced diet.
Fuel put into the body equals the results the body delivers at any age. This includes mental results as well as physical. Proper nutrition spread appropriately over the five food groups will go a long way towards keeping a young athlete competitive and focussed at the rink and at school
Can children afford more of a slip-up in their weekly dietary schedule than adults?
Sure they can. They lead different lifestyles.
That being said, nutrition is critical for young athletes because it teaches them to take care of their bodies at an early age. Eating premium ingredients in preparation for a hockey game or a training program demonstrates the positive rewards a healthy diet can create. Energy, strength and focus are vital to athletic performance as a young athlete, but these are habits that will serve everyone well after their playing days are done.
“When the body isn’t fuelled properly, an athlete will fatigue faster, suffer from muscle cramps and experience decreased performance,” says Robyn Kennett, the head athletic trainer of the Vancouver North West Giants of the British Columbia Major Midget Hockey League.
“If you don’t eat properly, say a carbohydrate-rich meal before exercise, you’re simply not fuelling up your body. This taxes your muscle glycogen stores which results in quicker fatigue,” says Kennett. “So, when a player says they have heavy legs, I usually ask them about what they ate before the game or even last night.”
For Kennett, older minor hockey players are starting to get it. There’s a shift between parents dictating meals and the player dictating away from convenience and to preparing nutrient-rich, healthy meals consistently.
“If they have bad nutrition they won’t grow, if they don’t get vitamins and minerals such as iron and zinc, vitamin B, they get tired and then they complain about their performance. Usually it’s not even their fault.”
Whether you’re pumping diesel into a long haul trailer or premium grade gasoline into a Porsche, the same rule applies: appropriate fuel. It’s no different for young athletes.
All the training and practice in the world means nothing without long-term, appropriate nutritional development and education.