Nutrition Tips For Kids Playing Sports
Not all kids are built the same, particularly kids engaged in high level youth sports. These days in particular, sports are so competitive that kids are starting out in their chosen sports earlier and earlier (with athletes like Tiger Woods beginning golf before the age of two). So when kids begin to engage in higher levels of sport and exercise, this should be correlated with a better and ‘different’ diet to the general population of kids.
Nutritional Needs of Young Athletes
” Kids who eat healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks will get the nutrients needed to perform well in sports. The MyPlate food guide can provide guidance on what kinds of foods and drinks to include in your child’s meals and snacks. The child athlete, however, will have higher energy and fluid requirements.” | kidshealth.org
Aside from the increased energy (aka calorie) consumption needed for a child athlete, it takes a variety of nutrients to keep young athletes performing at their best:
Calcium | needed to help keep the bones strong, and also more resistant to breaks and fractures.
Iron | excellent for oxygen transport through the body.
Protein | A given. Essential for the building of muscle tissue and muscular recovery.
Carbohydrates | When we had school track and field meets, we’d always have ‘Carbo Day’ where we would consume pasta’s and high carb meals one or two days before, to make sure our little bodies were loaded up with energy. It’s their fuel. Now, loading is probably not necessary, however a diet high in carbs is a good idea.
This goes for all kids, but in particular, athletic ones.
“It’s important for young athletes to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can zap strength, energy, and coordination and lead to heat-related illness. Even mild dehydration can affect athletic performance.”| kidshealth.org
During physical activity, it is recommended that kids drink water every 20 minutes, and not to rely on thirst as a primary indicator. Also, an extra dose on completion of exercise is recommended.
For kids in particular, water is the go to drink as opposed to sports drinks, which typically have extremely high sugar contents. Another option could be watered down juice, but first choice should always be water.
When it’s go time, it is crucial for kids to eat well on that day, however not a meal that varies vastly from their every day meals, or you risk your child having an upset stomach when game time is upon them.
Here are some general guidelines from| kidshealth.org:
- A meal 3 hours or more before activity should have plenty of carbs and a moderate amount of protein but be low in fat because fat takes longer to digest, which can cause an upset stomach. High-fiber foods also may cause some stomach upset, so it’s best to avoid these foods until after the game.
- If kids eat less than 3 hours before game or practice, serve a lighter meal or snack that includes easy-to-digest carbohydrate-containing foods, such as fruit, fruit or vegetable juice, crackers, or bread.
- After the game or event, experts recommend eating carbs (fruit, pretzels, a sports drink, etc.) within 30 minutes after intense activity and again 2 hours later. Your child’s body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing energy stores and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition. So it’s important that the post-game meal be a balance of lean protein, carbs, and fat.
Dairy, granola, fruit – these are all good options for breakfast. For lunch, something with a little more protein is idea, such as chicken or turkey wraps, and for dinner, try chicken or steak with rice and veggies, or perhaps a pasta with a beef sauce.
Snacking on pretzels is a great alternative to potato chips, also try giving them raisins, cheese and cut up carrots for snacking.