Children need to eat the correct amount of mixed foods to support that higher level of activity, but the mix do not have too differ from a normal healthy diet. Eating for sports should be an extension of healthy eating.
Eating well-balanced, healthy meals and snacks will provide the nutrients needed to perform well in sports, but the child athlete will have higher energy and fluid requirements. To keep young athletes performing at their best they need a variety of nutrients, besides getting the right number of calories daily.
Our children need a variety of minerals and vitamins, calcium and iron are two important minerals for athletes:
- Calcium helps build strong bones and resist breaking and stress fractures. Low-fat dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt as well as green vegetables such as broccoli are calcium-rich foods.
- Iron helps to carry oxygen to the different body parts. Chicken, eggs, lean meat, tuna, salmon, leafy green vegetables, fortified whole grains, and dried fruits are all iron-rich foods.
- Protein builds and repairs muscles and most kids need plenty of protein through a balanced diet. Lean meat, poultry, beans, so products, fish, nuts, and dairy products are all protein. Always bear in mind that too much protein can lead to dehydration and calcium loss.
- Young athletes need carbohydrates and it is an important source of fuel. It is not necessary for carb loading, but without carbs in children’s diets they will be running on empty. Whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread and cereal, brown rice and lots of vegetables and fruits are great carbohydrates.
To prevent dehydration, it is important that young athletes drink plenty of fluids as dehydration can zap strength, coordination, and energy. It is a good idea for kids to drink water or other fluids before and every 15-20 minutes during activities, it is also important to drink after activities to restore fluid lost through sweat.
Diluted juice is another option but avoid sugary drink and carbonated drinks which could upset their tummies. Water is the best choice for hydration as carbohydrates and electrolytes can be replenished after activities.
On game day it is important that kids eat well, choose healthy foods that enhances their performance.
- Three hours or more before the activity a meal should have plenty of carbs and moderate amount of protein, but low in fat as it takes longer to digest.
- Meals less than 3 hours before a game or practice should be a lighter meal or snack that includes easy to digest carbohydrate containing foods like vegetable or fruit juice, crackers, bread, or fruit.
- A sports drink, pretzels or fruit should be eaten within 30 minutes after activities and again 2 hours later. A kid’s body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing energy stores and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition. Therefore, it is so important the post-game meals is a balance of carbs, fat, and lean protein.
- Low-fat yogurt with granola and a banana.
- Whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk with sliced strawberries.
- Bean burritos with low-fat cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.
- A whole-wheat turkey sandwich and fruit.
- Grilled chicken breasts with steamed rice and vegetables.
- Pasta with red sauce and lean ground beef with a salad.
Even during the off-season, it is important to feed your child healthy meals and snack consistently.