July 7th, 2020

Training Matters: Protein intake important for young athletes

By Kimberlee Brooks on May 29, 2020.

With COVID-19 restriction many young athletes are on the sidelines not able to compete in their sport. Instead athletes are looking at creative ways to train, work on skills and stay conditioned to be ready to play again when restrictions lift.

With summer training, athletes want to be sure they are getting enough protein in their diet.

Protein helps build, maintain and repair muscle. It also helps deliver oxygen to tissues, boost immunity and help athletes feel full at meals.

It is important for teen athletes to have an even distribution of protein throughout the day to optimize and maintain muscle mass.

What this means is that they should be aiming to have about 20-30 grams of protein per meal. Teens often miss having enough protein at breakfast and lunch and instead get the majority at supper meals.

The problem with having most of our protein at one meal is that our bodies can only use about 30 grams of protein at a time for muscle synthesis.

For young athletes to get the most out of their training they will want to include a protein choice at each meal as well as after training as part of a recovery snack.

Protein supplements are generally not needed as most teen athletes can get all the protein they need from foods.

Lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, low fat milk or soy beverage, cheese, yogurt, tofu and edamame are great protein sources. Other good sources of protein include dried beans (such as black beans), chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Here are some ways teen athletes can include protein at each meal.

It is important for teen athletes to eat breakfast even if it means eating breakfast a little later in the morning rather than skipping.

Overnight oats can be prepared the night before by mixing oats with Greek high protein yogurt, a splash of milk, fruit and refrigerating overnight. Top with nuts in the morning for an extra protein boost.

If you prefer your oats warm, make high protein oatmeal by cooking oatmeal with milk rather than water, add two tablespoons of peanut butter and chia seeds and top with berries.

Try mini breakfast pizzas made with whole grain English muffin, eggs, pizza sauce and shredded cheese. Scramble the eggs, pile your toppings onto the English muffin and pop in the oven for a few minutes.

Breakfast burritos are handy to eat on the go. Whole grain tortillas can be filled with high protein choices such as scrambled eggs, black beans, and shredded cheddar cheese. Add tomatoes, peppers and spinach for vegetables, flavor and colour. If you are not a big fan of eggs, you can substitute ground turkey, lean breakfast sausage or soy protein for the eggs instead.

Most teens can eat lunch at home now rather than at school so hot and cold options for protein choice may be more available.

Fill sandwiches, wraps or pitas with high protein choices such as chicken and hummus, turkey and cheese, tuna with cucumber or peanut butter with banana.

Heat up leftovers from supper the night before. Top turkey, beef or bean chili with some grated cheese.

Try grilled meat such as three ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) of beef or chicken on kabobs with barbecue vegetables served over quinoa.

With less busy schedules athletes may find they are not having to rush out the door for a sporting event. Enjoy a sit down meal with family or better yet, athletes can help prepare their favourite meals. An all-around favourite supper meal high in protein is spaghetti with meat sauce with a salad or vegetables and a glass of milk. Another idea is using shredded chicken as fillings for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas. Fish such as salmon, tilapia and haddock are also great protein choices. Serve fish in tacos or with rice and vegetables or use leftover fish as a filling for a sandwich.

With new training plans in place for the summer, teen athletes can include meal planning to ensure they have protein choices with each meal.

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre SE and can be reached at kbrooks@mhc.ab.ca.

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