Judith Haudum

Gangwon Youth Olympic Games 2024

The fourth Youth Olympic Winter Games in South Korea start in January. The story of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) is still a young one, but a very enjoyable one. I was able to be there in Innsbruck back then. Somehow the first winter -YOG 2012 in Innsbruck seem long ago. It's a long way off. When you consider how much winter sports, in the meantime, have developed on various levels, it's like another world. Technology, material, athlete support, competition formats. So much new and so much further developed!

Back then in Innsbruck, the atmosphere at the games was excellent. Many countries, motivated young athletes and many exciting competitions. In addition to my work at the Olympic Center Salzburg and Linz, I was already a lecturer at the University of Salzburg and taught at UMIT in Hall/T in the Applied Nutrition Sciences and Physiology course. As a result, I was involved in several sports nutrition projects in Tyrol. Fortunately, when the YOG was imminent in 2012, nutrition was included in the program. Workshops for all athletes on fluid balance and more. How much should I drink? What should I drink? What should I eat for breakfast on competition day? Should I eat something right after the competition? Is the portion of spaghetti enough the night before the race? How should athletes eat?

YOG Workshop 2012 Innsbruck

All questions that are important. And yet we face them far too rarely. Back in Innsbruck, we took the first steps with the workshops to provide athletes with some relevant nutritional information at the games. Many of those present at the time had never had the opportunity to find out more from sports nutrition experts before. In many countries, there is still no one that athletes can turn to for everyday training. Fortunately, a lot has changed for the better in sports nutrition in Austria. On the one hand, we have learned a great deal about nutrients and their effects in the body and on athletic performance in the last almost 12 years, and on the other hand, nutrition in sport is of a different importance today than it was back then. For example, nutrition is covered in athlete care at all Olympic Centers in Austria and some associations (e.g. Ski Austria) also provide their athletes with nutrition support.

Athletes and coaches have recognized how nutrition, when tailored to the load, can support performance. However, extensive research and data analysis have also made us aware of how dangerous incorrect or inadequate sports care can be. And thanks to scientific work, we have also seen how important good nutritional knowledge is at a young age.

It is therefore gratifying that we are now increasingly teaching our young athletes nutritional knowledge through experts. The earlier we start, the better it is for their performance and health. Especially during adolescence, when the body changes so much, where training becomes more intensive and professional, where goals and ideals change significantly, problems with nutrition often arise. There are many changes taking place in the lives of young athletes and for some this is a difficult time. For example, we know from observations that the number of eating disorders is rising sharply in these years. Wrong goals and inadequate nutritional knowledge increase the risk of illness.

Good basic knowledge has advantages

If we explain the role of nutrition through events and consultations and if we succeed in equipping our young athletes with good basic knowledge, this brings many benefits. Better nutrient supply, better training diet, stronger immune system, lower risk of injury, healthier eating habits, and more.

Athletes who know how energy supply and training load are linked can react to increasing and falling stress by taking appropriate measures. General knowledge of nutrient suppliers is also useful. If you know which foods provide carbohydrates, you can supply your muscles with the necessary amounts. Anyone who knows where high-quality protein is contained everywhere does not need any supplements because the daily requirement can be easily covered by natural protein sources.

YOG 2012 Innsbruck

When it comes to protein in particular, young athletes often believe that powders and bars are necessary to meet their daily requirement. With good nutritional knowledge, you know that milk, buttermilk or (soy) yogurt, for example, are just as effective as protein powder after exercise - and on top of that, their use reduces the risk of a positive doping test due to contaminated products. Let's just not forget this danger...! Because the risk can never be completely eliminated; even with tested products, there is a certain residual risk.

With early nutrition training, we can point out all these details to athletes. Without losing ourselves in too many details, our goal must be to teach our athletes the beautiful side of nutrition. When we talk to young people about nutrition, we can show them how to provide their bodies with enough to stay healthy, perform and thus get closer to their dream of great sporting success. We can teach them that nutrition isn't the hated stressor that many think it is. Because with the help of good basic knowledge, athletes understand how important the supply is and what an adequate supply of energy and nutrients does.

Help and create opportunities

YOG 2024 starts in just a few weeks. A few months ago, the first meetings on nutrition were held with Austrian biathletes. Imparting and presenting knowledge: Daily nutrition for athletes. Energy for training. What is important for the competition? In the meantime, the games are already much closer and all Austrian starters in all sports have been announced. Thanks to the initiative of Austrian Olympic Committees Is there nutritional support for the Austrian cadre. Empowering athletes! Young athletes who have a basic knowledge of nutrition get through major events better than those who arrive without previous knowledge. Games like this are overwhelming. Lots of emotions, lots of offers, a busy program and the desire to perform as well as possible.

Once I have been taught the basic principles of nutrition, then I can choose what is important and right for me from all the food on offer in games. That's when I'm standing in front of the big buffet and I know what to look out for for my competition tomorrow. The broad base, which we often forget by getting lost in details, is still the most important thing. Getting the basics right creates the best conditions for outstanding performance. This is the only way to achieve success and that is why it is also my goal to create a good basis for my athletes. This basis should be the concern of all of us, especially when we work in young talent sports. In this way, we enable our athletes to get the most out of a healthy and well-nourished body.

Further reading:

Condo et al. Nutritional Intake, Sports Nutrition Knowledge and Energy Availability in Female Australian Rules Football Players. Nutrients 2019, 11, 971; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11050971.

Jagim et al. The Influence of Sport Nutrition Knowledge on Body Composition and Perceptions of Dietary Requirements in Collegiate Athletes. Nutrients 2021, 13, 2239. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13072239.

Kavouras et al. Educational Intervention on Water Intake Improves Hydration Status and Enhances Exercise Performance in Athletic Youth, Scan J Med Sci Sports, 2012, 22, 684-689. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2011.01296.x.

Kettunen et al. Nutrition Knowledge Is Associated with Energy Availability and Carbohydrate Intake in Young Female Cross-Country Skiers. Nutrients 2021, 13 (6), 1769; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13061769.

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