Fueling for Early Morning Practice

It's officially August, and for many student athletes in Fall sports, this means the beginning of pre-season workouts and early mornings. Many of us struggle with time management for our kids and getting a healthy breakfast in. It's pretty normal for teens to be hard to wake in the mornings, which leads to being rushed to get to practice on time and breakfast is usually overlooked. Others just are not hungry in the mornings and a heavier breakfast just makes them feel noxious.

So what's a parent to do to keep their athlete fed and ready to go?

It's been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this is especially true for athletes. The pre-season and competitive times of the year are not the times to be practicing intermittent fasting. That being said, the amount of food that an athlete needs in the mornings is really going to depend on the teen herself, her sport, and what she ate the day before.

The good news is that most sports practices are only about 2-3 hours long, and we can set our teens up for success while keeping their appetites and time constraints in mind.

The official position statement from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends either a combination of carbs and protein, or protein alone, for pre-practice meals. Some nutritionists recommend getting 1-4g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight in the pre-practice meal, which comes out to 50g-200g for a 100lb athlete. This may be more than they want before heading into a high-intensity practice.

I have a rowing client who prefers a heavier meal of oatmeal before her 7am practice. Personally, that was more than I can handle as a former rower, but it works for her. Since she is on the water, there are few opportunities for her to stop during practice and grab a quick snack to help with energy, and so a slow-burning carb like oatmeal makes sense.

Other athletes have more small breaks in their practices where they can slip in a quick refueling snack, like applesauce or fruit gummies, and we can consider that when planning their pre-practice meals.

What we don't want to do is to send them out the door with a coffee or sports drink and an otherwise empty stomach. That can leave to GI distress during practice which isn't going to help anyone.

So, what should we feed these kids?

  • Carbohydrates: the first consideration is carbohydrates because this is the first choice of energy for our bodies when we start our training. It doesn't matter if you're on a keto diet or have adapted to a fat-burning state, your body is going to look for readily-available glucose to start with, and ingesting quick-burning carbs are where we get those. This is especially important if your teen is in an endurance sport. Consider how much time between your teen eating and the start of practice when making this choice:
    • Choose a moderate to high-GI carb if they are eating 30 minutes before practice. Examples are Oatmeal or Overnight Oats, Bananas
    • Choose a high carbohydrate drink (juice, 6% solution of maltodextrin) to drink 10-20 minutes before training
    • For sensitive stomachs, consume a high-GI snack and sip on a high-GI drink in the hour leading up to the start of training

    • Protein: Adding a small amount of protein to the pre-training meal is beneficial to increase exercise performance, help with endurance during practice, and promote muscle recovery. All of these benefits will support your athlete in fully engaging in practice without hitting the energy wall.
      • Yogurt or high-protein milk is a great option for a carb+protein meal
      • If your teen prefers a smoothie, only add about 10-15g of protein. A smoothie containing 15g of protein and a medium banana blended with water provides a nice pre-training drink.

    After getting some food in your kiddo before practice, then you can shift your focus to what they're eating the rest of the day to aid in recovery and replenish those fuel stores. If your teen's practice is over one hour, send them with a snack to eat during practice. Good options here are quick, simple carbohydrates that are digested quickly and can be used for energy ASAP. Apple sauce, fruit gummies, fruit, juice, and Lara bars.

    After practice, try to get a good meal in them at least 90 minutes after they finish practice. Focus on getting a nice balance of protein, carbohydrates and some fat. Ideally, this will be something other than a protein shake, especially if their pre-training meal was small. A ham and cheese sandwich or PB&J with some colorful veggies on the side is a great options.

    After this, encourage your teen to have a meal or snack every 3-4 hours. Many of our teen athletes, especially the girls, do not consume enough calories to maintain what they burn during training and just in their daily lives. Pre-season and competition season are definitely not the times to restrict calories, and spacing the meals out to every 3-4 hours is a great way to ensure that your teen is getting enough food in their bodies to support their performance and aid in recovery.

    Need more ideas on how to support your teen athlete (or yourself) for those early-morning sessions? Join us on Facebook in the Nourished Female Athletes group!

    Categories: nutrition, performance

    Share Your Thoughts

    Do you want to talk more about something in this post, or have questions about how to help your daughter improve her athletic wellness & performance? 

    Let's find a time to connect! Click the link below to schedule a FREE 30-Minute call to discuss your goals and needs for yourself and your teen.