It’s hard enough to feed your children in a way that meets their nutritional needs without having a PhD in dietetics these days. Endless labels to read, growing bones to worry about, and developing brains needing something called omega-3’s. Add to those concerns a child with athletic aspirations and you’ve got exhausted energy stores and building muscle to add to your list.
There is a wide range in dietary needs between a pre-schooler and a high-schooler, but, basically, when it comes to sports nutrition for kids, there are three factors to consider first.
1. The timing of eating.
2. Getting and staying hydrated.
3. Refueling the body to replenish lost stores.
Because athletes burn calories around the clock, it is important to get the right amount of nutrition throughout the day. Be sure your star athlete has five or six small meals per day or a few meals and a few snacks. Each meal or snack should contain both carbohydrates for energy and protein to help sustain blood sugars and rebuild muscle. Nut mixes are ideal for athletes because they are a quick snack, filled with carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats. Some other super snacks you can pack include crackers and cheese, peanut butter sandwich, trail mix, containers of cut-up fruit, sliced veggies with dip.
If you’re feeding your little slugger a before-game meal, make sure it’s got enough carbs to keep them going, moderate in protein and balanced in fat and fiber. Basically, a well-balanced meal.
Hydration is key, especially during the hotter months. I used to cringe at the sugar-filled drinks getting passed around fields after a girls’ soccer game, but, even though water rules, something to drink is better than nothing. And please remind your kids not to wait until they’re thirsty. Stay hydrated throughout the day. Teach them how to pass the urine test (if the urine is too yellow or urination infrequent, they’re not getting enough to drink).
Even though sports drinks are popular, they’re not necessary every time. As a matter of fact, try to stay away from those “empty calories.” Sure, they’re burning all that sugar off, but remember they have teeth that don’t need to rot and bad habits that don’t need fostering. If your kids are opposed to pure water, try watering down 100% fruit juice or Gatorade. Also, if your children are daring, try coconut water on them! Coconut water is higher in potassium, and lower in sodium and sugar than sports or energy drinks.
It’s available at and and is great for rehydration.
Refueling happens about thirty minutes after their activity. Remind them to eat foods with protein like peanut butter or cheese or plain yogurt with fruit. New research shows low-fat milk can be an effective beverage for muscle recovery.
More important than these three physiological truths about keeping our young athletes fueled properly, we need to watch the nagging. Bottom line: your children will know naturally what they need if you teach them to listen to their bodies. Steer them in the direction of eating for strength. Teach them that protein builds muscle, healthy carbs provide energy and omega-3s build their brains. Make available those foods that will sustain and empower them.
And then let them choose.
Eventually, they get the message.