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How young athletes can eat like a champion

Downing a pre-workout protein shake, taking a vitamin pill or turning to an energy drink for a lift may all seem harmless, but many young athletes are oblivious to the risks of nutritional supplements.

That’s according to University of Southern Queensland performance scientist Associate Professor Stephen Bird who says athletes often fall into the trap of false advertising or ill-informed advice when it comes to over-the-counter supplements.

“Young athletes are under increasing pressure to excel in their chosen sport, and many go for nutritional supplements in order to enhance sports performance in an attempt to get that competitive edge,” he said.

“However, many have absolutely no idea what the ingredients in the supplements could do to their body because they lack fundamental nutritional knowledge.

“They may obtain their nutritional information via illegitimate sources such as the internet, media and other athletes, representing miscommunication between sound scientific information and anecdotal experiences.”

Associate Professor Bird is an expert in elite athlete preparation, strength and conditioning and nutritional supplementation.

His research has found that coaches were the most common source of nutritional advice for athletes aged 14-18, whilst just 16 per cent turned to an accredited dietician.

It also showed one-third of the athletes surveyed reported using supplements, with almost half of them saying they were unsure why they were taking them.

“Youth athletes are not equipped to make accurate decisions regarding their nutritional requirements, and this in turn may negatively impact their health status, physical and psychological development and/ sports performance,” he said.

Associate Professor Bird will be presenting his research at a free community event on Thursday (November 18) at the Ipswich Rugby League Football Ground and online.

Open to parents and children, the presentation will cover four main topics: nutritional knowledge of youth athletes; gender differences in nutrition requirements; nutrition myth busters and the impact of caffeine and energy drinks.

Associate Professor Bird will also share some easy recipes that young athletes can make at home for enhancing training, recovery and sports performance.

“If you owned a Ferrari, you wouldn’t fill it with dirty fuel. It needs high-octane fuel for high performance,” Associate Professor Bird said.

“The same goes for young athletes. They need to be fuelled with clean, wholesome foods to maintain proper growth and optimise performance. We want our young athletes to have a positive relationship with food.

“Parents often worry they don’t get to spend enough quality time with their children, so let’s get the kids in the kitchen.

“Cooking together is the perfect recipe for sharing time together and creating lifelong bonds."

people in kitchen
Associate Professor Stephen Bird with Ipswich State High School girls rugby league players Grace Tupai and Joyce Vunipola (UniSQ Photography).