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Optimal Fueling For Young Athletes (Karate et al)

optimal fueling

Optimal Fueling For Young Athletes (Karate et al)

The following is a copy of my notes from a presentation I gave at my favorite karate dojo in the world, Ryokubi Karate Dojo in Stamford, CT, in 2012. The information is still relevant, and for adults as well as kids.  Enjoy!

Karate, along with requiring strength, speed, skill and agility, requires endurance

You need to train right and eat right. Building a body equipped for strength, speed, skill and endurance will require plenty of protein, good fats, fruits and vegetables. You and your child need to lay off the junk food 90% of the time.

Optimal Fueling Notes

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peta-de-aztlan/3519424024

Example: Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee’s height and weight:  5’7 ½” (1.71 m) tall and 140 lbs (63.6 kg).

Don’t have to be large to be strong and fast.  Bruce Lee had a strong interest in healthy eating, especially when it came to high protein drinks and nutritional supplements. He is reported to have drunk 1-2 protein drinks every day, along with homemade smoothies made from fruit and vegetable juices and plenty of fresh green vegetables.

Bruce Lee’s waist was between 26 and 28 inches (66-71 cm) throughout most of his adult life.  The average male’s waist size today is about 38 inches (97 cm).

By the way, the most telltale (and worrisome) indicator of diabetes and heart disease is a preponderance of abdominal (gut) fat.

Problems with inadequate energy

World Champion team in 2014 – Demonstration of a perfect Kime. Source: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kime#/media/File:Karate_WM_2014_(2)_173.JPG

  • Problem maintaining existing lean mass
  • Lowering of metabolic rate
  • Lower energy / nutrient intake
  • Reduction in athletic performance
  • Increased risk of injury

Energy inadequacy clearly has problems associated with it.

Inadequate energy intake reduces the benefit athletes derive from training.

Energy inadequacy also makes it difficult for athletes to maintain existing lean mass, probably because muscle is being consumed by the body to provide some of the needed energy that was not consumed through food. A lower metabolic rate is commonly seen in people who consume inadequate energy, and is probably linked to a lower lean (metabolic) mass.

The less you eat, the lower the nutrient intake and, for young developing athletes this could dramatically increase developmental problems.  A poorly developed skeleton from inadequate calcium intake is at far greater risk of developing, for instance, stress fractures now and osteoporosis later. There is ample evidence that shows that inadequate energy consumption is associated with reduced athletic performance.

Finally, athletes who consume too little are at increased risk of getting injured.  Some studies suggest that these injuries are most likely to occur at the end of practice or competition, when energy inadequacy causes both mental and physical fatigue.

First and Foremost: WATER!!!

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/clean-clear-cold-drink-416528/

Water is a food.  We do not get enough of it, especially during workouts

  • Fluid loss during exercise can equate to weight loss just after the workout. You do not want to lose water weight directly post-workout! If you weigh 2 pounds less just after exercise, you have lost 2 pounds (907 grams) of water.
  • Sweat rate is heavily influenced by:
    • exercise intensity
    • ambient temperature (rm. temp)
    • humidity

Proper Mineral Balance and Hydration

A direct threat to heart health is electrolyte imbalance, which can occur when your child is dehydrated and not eating enough of the right nutrients.  Muscle, including the heart, is over 75% water.

The heart, in particular, has its own electric circuitry that is regulated by proper hydration and electrolyte balance.  Children become dehydrated much more quickly than adults, and the dehydration and electrolyte deficiency that can occur during athletic training and sport events can be dangerous, even life-threatening.

Water levels and minerals like sodium, chloride, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphate in proper quantities and ratios are all necessary for the heart to function properly.

Normally, we should drink ½ our body weight in ounces of water a day.  For example, a kid who is 86 pounds should drink 43 ounces (1.22 kg) of filtered water a day – not juice, not coffee, not sports drinks.

In both children and adults, higher exercise intensities slow the rate at which fluids and fuels are digested. However, this occurs to an even greater extent in children who are exercising at high intensities, and the maximum amount of fluid that a child can absorb per hour while training will be about 20-24 ounces.

Sweat losses during 2 hours of exercise can equal 2 liters (68 ounces) of fluid or more.  For this duration, your child should drink 8 oz (1 cup) of filtered water every 15 minutes!  The child needs to replenish during training in order to keep hydration at proper levels.

A good rule of thumb for your child athlete is the following chart:

Water Intake

  • 2 hours before exercise      2-3+ cups
  • 15 minutes before exercise        1-2+ cups
  • Every 15 minutes during exercise              1 cup
  • After exercise                                                      2-3 cups for every pound lost

Source: American College of Sports Medicine Position Paper, 2006

Keeping Up with Hydration Status

Monitor urine color (should be a light straw color).

Focus on fluids all day, not just during workouts and practice.

Adequate Fueling:

  • Adequate macronutrient / micronutrient intake daily – fresh, locally grown organic raw foods as well as cooked foods
  • Portion sizes! Look at your fist. No more 3 huge square meals: 5-6 servings of food/day the size of your fist. Eat every 2-3 hours.
  • Do I have a balanced plate for my training cycle needs? Good fats, useful carbohydrates, and useful proteins!
  • Is the way I am eating going to support my body so that I can accomplish my goals well?

After exercise, it is important to eat the proper combination of nutrients during the first 30 minutes. The meal following exercise should be very easy to digest and provide amino acids to help building and repair of muscular tissue and optimize uptake of the nutrients and minerals to the muscles, including the heart (remember: the heart is a muscle!).

A good example of a post-workout meal would be a good whey, egg, or pea/hemp drink with a teaspoon of sea salt or dulse thrown in.

Following are examples of electrolyte-rich foods (all should be organic and in the case of dairy, raw):

  • Sodium: dill pickle, tomato juice/sauce/soup; sea salt (1 tsp = 2300 mg sodium), dulse
  • Chloride: sea salt, dulse, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, olives
  • Potassium: red potato with skin, plain yogurt, banana
  • Magnesium: cacao beans/dark chocolate, halibut, pumpkin seeds, spinach
  • Calcium: raw dairy (yogurt, milk, ricotta), collard greens, spinach, kale, sardines
  • Phosphate( available in suitable quantities along with the other electrolyte foods) egg yolks, milk, nuts, wheat germ, peas, beans, legumes, mushrooms, cacao beans/dark chocolate


  • Primary energy source for high-intensity activity
  • Nutrient-dense carbohydrates provide:
    • Vitamins & minerals
    • Antioxidants & phytochemicals
      • Contribute to healthy immune system
    • Fiber
      • Helps control appetite
      • Helps stabilize insulin levels
      • Helps resist chronic diseases

Healthy Carbohydrates

Make sure they are organic, locally-grown, bright colored, and in season

Daily Carbohydrate intake for Young Athletes (under 16)

(Key: 2.2 kilograms in 1 pound)

4 grams/kilogram for girls

7 grams/ kilogram for boys

Ex: 90 pound young female athlete would need to eat around 165 grams of carbohydrate daily, or about 660 calories of carbohydrate (165 x 4).  A 90 pound boy athlete would need 289 grams of carbohydrate, or about 1155 calories.

Calorie Chart

4 calories per gram of carbohydrate

4 calories per gram of protein

9 calories per gram of fat

Make sure your child eats calorically-balanced, healthy meals consisting of lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates like leafy green vegetables, and healthy fats like omega 3 fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil, and nuts every two hours for four-to-six hours followingexercise.  BTW:Children do not require extra carbohydrate intake prior to exercise lasting under 75 minutes.  They require water!


Fat is very important for the development of appropriate muscle-neuron development in the young athlete, as well as in very hardcore adult trainers. Children and high-intensity trainers use 10-40% more fat stores than adults who exercise only moderately. Parents should be very considerate to provide meals that contain healthy omega-3 fats for proper muscle/neural development.

  • Dietary fats
    • Supplies energy to the body
    • Needed for structure of cells, hormone production, etc
    • Regulates metabolic processes
    • Transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K through the body
    • Contributes to healthy immune system

*Fats should be avoided by moderately-active adults prior to exercise; they will drag them down.

Good Fats                 


Omega-3         Omega-6

Oily Fish         Corn

Flaxseed          Safflower

Canola oil        Soybeans

Leafy greens   Sunflower



Olive, Peanut oils, many nuts, avocado

Saturated:– animals, some plants:

*Make certain the animals lived a happy life free of antibiotics, genetic modification, and pesticide intake.

Game Birds, Wild Fish, Deer, Boar, Grass-fed beef, Free-range chicken, Free-range eggs, Raw milk/cheese/butter

Trans Fat/Bad Saturated Fat (DO NOT EAT):

Processed food, Factory Farmed Animals, Genetically-Modified Animals/Plants/Dairy —

If you see/hear about it on a commercial, DO NOT EAT IT!

Sad, Scared, Angry, Unnatural Animals/Plants + Human Belly

= Unnaturally Sad, Scared, Angry, Unhealthy Human


  • Provides building blocks for muscle
    • Growth
    • Maintenance
    • Repair
  • Contributes to healthy immune system
  • May help with appetite control

Nature is smart!  Many foods you need contain carbs, fats, and proteins all in one!

Avoid/limit intake of these proteins:

Okinawa Health

A very good model for eating can be found in Okinawa, the birthplace of Shotokan Karate

Okinawans Have:

  • Very little sickness
  • Longest, disability-free life expectancy on planet
  • Mean age of 81.2
  • Highest percentage of centenarians (40 per 100,000)
  • Use nutrient dense diet, cultural traditions, elder care, and Reiki (Healing Art) for wellness

Compared to Americans

  • Okinawa death rate from heart disease is only 18% that of Americans
  • 80% less breast and prostate cancer
  • 50% less ovarian and colon cancer
  • 60% less hip fracture
  • 50% less dementia
  • Heart attacks are only 20% as common as in the U.S. and the survival rate is twice as great

Diet and Nutrition

  • Diet is considered the “key” to their longevity
  • Plant-based diet
  • 78% of entire food intake is comprised of vegetables
  • Wide variety of foods
  • Vegetables, rice, seaweed, sweet potatoes, fish, legumes, and turmeric
  • Protein comes from: fish, nuts, tofu, chicken or pork
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Americans daily consume 3 times the avg. amount of meat eaten by Okinawans

Food Preparation

  • Meals prepared with care
  • Main method of cooking: stir frying using expeller-pressed Canola oil (Omega-6)
  • BTW: if an oil smokes when heated, the oil has become carcinogenic. Heat oils carefully!
  • Many garnishes such as turmeric are used that offer numerous health benefits
  • Meals are enjoyed, not rushed through

Hints for Meal Timing

  • Spreading same food intake out over 5-6 meals and snacks rather than 3 large meals or preventing the “Backlog Effect”
    • More even blood glucose levels
    • Lower blood fat levels
    • Stimulation of metabolic rate
    • Reduces “hunger spots” when on a lower energy diet

Once Again:

  • After exercise, it is important to eat the proper combination of nutrients during the first 30 minutes.
  • The meal following exercise should be very easy to digest and provide amino acids to help building and repair of muscular tissue and optimize uptake of the nutrients and minerals to the muscles, including the heart (remember: the heart is a muscle!).
  • Good examples would be a good whey, egg, or pea/hemp sports drink with a teaspoon of sea salt or dulse thrown in.

Fueling your child properly for training can provide your child with a performance edge and help your child develop into a strong, smart, balanced, confident adult!