By Jennifer Zarrilli, RD, CNSC

An athlete’s body needs plenty of fuel, whether they’re just starting out or part of an elite team. All those sprints, drills and fitness challenges take a lot of energy!

Luckily, some simple habits go a long way.  Connecticut Children’s manager of Clinical Nutrition Jennifer Zarrilli, RD, CNSC, outlines tips to share with athletes.

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1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Dehydration is very common in all of us, especially children and teens. It’s often the cause of headaches or feeling tired.

On the other hand, drinking plenty of liquids gives you energy, clears away the lactic acid that causes muscle fatigue, lubricates joints, and cushions your organs.

An easy way to tell you’re drinking enough fluids? Look at your urine. It should be almost clear. You should be peeing every three or so hours.

To hydrate, water is always the best option.

2. Every couple of hours, eat something.

You need to snack every two or three hours, or your blood sugar drops and your body starts burning muscle.

By eating every couple hours throughout the day, you’ll feel better, you’ll compete better, and you’ll recover better. Your concentration will improve. You’ll have more energy. Your immune system will be stronger, and your stress levels will be lower. (When blood sugar goes down, stress hormones go up.)

So plan ahead to have snacks handy. Read on for suggestions!

Two young girls take a water break

3. Protein + carbohydrate

Protein maintains your muscles and helps you build lean body mass. Carbohydrates provide fuel for energy. Whenever it’s time for a snack or a meal, always try to pair the two together.

Think: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A cheese stick with an apple. Spaghetti and meatballs. Eggs and toast. Rice and beans. Keep it interesting! It’s important to eat a variety of foods.

What about those times when you need to eat, but can’t scrape together a protein and a carb? That’s OK. A less-than-perfect snack is always better than no snack at all.

4. Get lots of calcium.

Calcium helps your bones grow healthy, and your body to function properly. It lowers the risk of fractures. It boosts recovery after intense exercise. It’s especially important for girls and young women: Because of how the female body absorbs calcium, the calcium you get in your adolescence and early 20s is critical for bone health later in life.

Calcium is in lots of foods, including some that might surprise you. Try Googling “what has calcium in it?” and adding your favorite items to your routine. For example: yogurt, leafy greens, seeds, beans, sardines, and that old standby, milk.