BRADENTON — Swing bats, throw footballs, swing golf clubs and tennis racquets, run miles on end.
Young athletes do all of these things to hone their craft and stay in tip-top shape. A nutritious diet, though, is just as important in the making of a top-flight talent.
Without a good diet, athletes can’t get the most out of their bodies. Some professionals even go so far to hire in-home chefs to prepare meals.
There’s lots to think about when making nutrition a key ingredient of a training regimen.
“Kids need to ask themselves, is the base training diet good enough for what they are asking their bodies to do?” said Sally Parsonage, a nutritionist for IMG Academy. “Are they getting the right amount of proteins at the right time? But they can’t forget their fruits and vegetables. That’s a critical part of the process in helping maintain their immune system.”
Fruits and vegetables contain a special portion of antioxidants, Parsonage said. High-level athletes are required to eat six to seven servings a day. A glass of fruit juice can be used as a serving.
“But I don’t recommend fruit juice for every meal,” Parsonage said. “Then it becomes unhealthy.”
Too much protein is unhealthy as well.
According to Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, growing athletes — the normal high school athlete — should multiply his or her body weight by .9 to determine how many grams of protein to have each day. A 185-pound wide receiver should take in 166.5 grams of protein a day.
James Yoon, 16, a golfer at IMG Academy, is 5-foot-11 and 158 pounds, and he first went to Parsonage because he was concerned he didn’t weigh enough for his height. Yoon was placed on a more nutritious diet that didn’t include his favorite foods — chocolate chip cookies and cake. He’s seen positive results.
“I can keep my energy level high, and I can keep my focus,” Yoon said. “I have a good swing through the rounds. I have the same energy from the first tee to the last tee.”
The added stamina enabled Yoon to win the TPC Sawgrass under-15 junior tournament for the second straight year.
“I think nutrition in golf is important,” Yoon said, “because we are out there for 72 holes, and you need to stay focused on every shot to be a successful player.”
Ian Laster, who trains at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy at IMG Academy, credits his nutrition for his triumphs on the tennis court. Over the summer, Laster, 18, who competes on the international level, won two doubles tournaments and qualified for the semifinals in two others.
“You benefit yourself when you eat like you are going to your next training session,” he said. “You eat for the next time you play. You want to fuel your body.”
Replenishing your body is the key to maintaining good nutrition. Athletes won’t get the maximum effort from their muscles if their bodies aren’t properly fueled.
Parsonage said most athletes sweat four to five pints per hour. That’s 2 percent of a person’s body weight.
“If you don’t replace that properly, it can affect the working capacity of your muscles up to 20 percent. You will be 20 percent slower over 20 yards or whatever the sport demands.”
To that end, an excellent diet more than likely will equal peak performance.
“A lot of it is really common sense,” Parsonage said. “Most kids understand going to McDonald’s a lot won’t be wise for them if they want to be a better athlete.”