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5 Strategies to make sure Young Swimmers get enough Protein

posted Dec 7, 2015, 7:49 PM by Pat Windschitl   [ updated Dec 7, 2015, 7:49 PM ]
Chocolate Milk

Protein is a nutrient everyone in the sports world talks about, from boosting it in the diet to eating the right types.

Protein certainly plays an important role in the young swimmer’s diet. For one, it has a starring role in growth, supporting the building of new tissue.

Protein also lends a hand in muscle repair. During intensive exercise, muscles work hard and break down. Protein, and the amino acids that make up protein, help repair muscle damage and support muscle growth.

Most nutrition experts agree that getting protein from food is the ideal strategy for growing athletes. But some athletes (and their parents) worry that their swimmer isn’t eating enough.

Rest assured, most young athletes get plenty of protein in their diet from the food they eat. In fact, studies show that most young athletes eat 2-3 times more protein than they need. However, swimmers who diet or follow a vegan diet may fall short on good protein sources.

Getting enough protein isn’t the only issue for athletes, though. The timing of when protein is eaten matters also. For example, spacing protein evenly across the day is ideal for making sure protein is available to the body when needed. And, eating a source of protein within 45 minutes of a grueling workout is linked to improved muscle repair. 

Protein illustration, small.Here are some fail-proof strategies to ensure swimmers get enough protein, and at the right times:

Know your Protein: Food including meats like beef, lamb, chicken and other poultry sources; fish; beans and products made with beans like hummus and other bean-based dips; eggs; milk; soymilk; cheese; yogurt; and nuts and nut butters are all good sources of protein.

Space out Protein: Make sure you eat a quality protein source at each meal and include protein with most snacks. This effort will make protein available to muscles and the rest of the body throughout the day.

Recover with a Protein-containing Snack: A source of protein eaten within 45 minutes of intensive exercise has been linked to muscle recovery and muscle mass gain. Studies have pointed to chocolate milk as a good recovery snack, as it contains protein (a casein- and whey-based type of protein) and carbohydrate, of which effectively repair muscle and supply glycogen (energy) to the muscle, respectively. Other sources of protein, like cheese or yogurt, combined with a carbs like crackers or fruit, likely provide similar benefits as chocolate milk.

Drink Milk or Soymilk Regularly: Drinking milk or soymilk with meals is one easy way to assure protein appears at mealtime. Of course, if the swimmer is eating other protein foods at that time, milk may not be needed. Milk and soymilk are also packed with other nutrients important for the swimmer like calcium and vitamin D.

Soy Milk (Small)Don’t Overdo It with Extra Protein: Adding extra protein to shakes, or eating high protein bars or other supplements isn’t necessary for the young athlete and may provide too much protein. Going overboard with protein can contribute to dehydration, stress the kidneys, and promote unwanted weight gain. (Editor’s Note: Along with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), USA Swimming considers dietary supplements, such as some protein shakes and powders, as “take at your own risk,” placing full responsibility for any effects and repercussions on the athlete. For more information, see our Dietary Supplements page).

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (www.fearlessfeeding.com) and author of the upcoming book, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete (July 2015). She is the creator of Just The Right Byte (www.justtherightbyte.com), and lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT. Find out more about Jill at www.JillCastle.com