Sports Nutrition for Kids - Healthy Diets For
our children proper nutrition is key in keeping them healthy. This
is especially true for kids who participate in sports. It is important
for all kids to be physically active; the national guidelines recommend
an hour of activity every day. For kids and teens involved in athletic
activities beyond that daily hour of activity, good nutrition is
crucial for appropriate growth, development, and sports performance.
A basic understanding of good nutrition will build a foundation
for healthy kids and athletes. Balance is the main idea. It is important
for all kids to eat foods from all of the food groups. The grain
group - bread, cereal, rice, pasta, etc. - provides carbohydrates
needed for energy. Whole grains like wheat and bran also provide
vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are high in
vitamins and minerals to ensure proper growth, development, and
overall body functioning. Fruits also provide carbohydrates for
energy. Dairy foods - milk, cheese, and yogurt - provide carbohydrates,
protein, and important vitamins and minerals. Calcium and vitamin
D are very important for athletes because they build strong bones
and are involved in muscle contraction.
Protein foods - the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dry beans, and legumes
group - provide protein needed for energy and healthy muscles. Individual
recommendations for intake vary, but good nutrition can generally
be achieved by consuming a variety of foods from different food
groups throughout the day. Added fats, oils, and sweets contribute
calories but very little vitamins and minerals. It is okay to add
a little flavor to your foods. Be careful, though, about consuming
foods and drinks that contribute only fats, oils, and sweets. These
foods and drinks, such as cakes, candies, and soft drinks, will
not help you prepare for your sport.
For kids involved in sports, there are additional nutrition issues
to consider. Timing of intake, appropriate hydration, and refueling
are three significant issues in sports nutrition.
Timing intake appropriately ensures that an athlete has the right
amount of energy and nutrients to participate in his or her activity.
It is often recommended that athletes, particularly kids, have five
to six small meals per day - or three meals plus two to three snacks
- instead of three bigger meals. This helps the body keep energy
levels adequate for activity. Each meal and snack should contain
foods and drinks that contain both carbohydrates and protein. Timing
also plays a role in preparing for competition. The "pre-game
meal" should meet the following guidelines:
- Provide sufficient fluid to maintain hydration (see below)
- High in carbohydrates for energy and blood glucose maintenance
- Moderate in protein
- Low in fat/fiber to promote digestive processing and decrease
- Composed of foods/drinks familiar to the athlete and well-tolerated
Hydration is ensuring that your body has enough fluids. Because
fluids are lost when we sweat, this is particularly important for
athletes. It is also especially important in hot and humid climates.
Proper hydration does not only involve drinking the right fluids
during physical activity; it means drinking fluids properly throughout
the day to ensure adequate hydration when activity begins. Drink
plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you are thirsty.
During sport practices or competitions, drink a little bit of water
whenever you have a break. If it is a long competition or a lot
of fluid is being lost in sweat, sport drinks are good sources of
fluids and electrolytes. However, kids generally do not need to
drink sports drinks every time they practice or compete. These drinks
can become a source of "empty calories," giving a sense
of fullness with little nutrients. When kids drink sports drinks,
8 to 12 ounces is plenty. A 16- or 20-ounce bottle is unnecessary
and can interfere with proper refueling.
Refueling is giving back to your body what it has used during activity.
To refuel properly, a meal or snack should be consumed within thirty
minutes of ending athletic activity. The best refueling meals and
snacks contain both carbohydrates and protein. If it is time for
a meal after a sports practice or competition, refueling is usually
simple. However, if it is not a normal meal time, it is important
to add at least a "light" snack. Some good examples are
peanut butter and crackers, string cheese and a piece of fruit,
or a cup of yogurt. Each time you refuel properly, you are preparing
your body better for future activities.
There are also a few nutrients that are particularly important
for athletes to monitor. Iron is important for carrying oxygen in
the blood. Low iron will cause fatigue and decreased performance.
Iron can be increased with high-iron foods, such as red meats and
fortified grains. Calcium is important for bones and muscle contraction.
Low calcium can increase risk of stress fractures because the body
will use calcium from the bones for muscle contraction. Three to
four servings of dairy foods per day will help ensure adequate calcium.
It can be helpful to take a multivitamin daily. Be sure to choose
a vitamin appropriate for age. Children should never take an adult
For all kids, listening to the body's hunger and fullness cues
will help ensure adequate nutrition. Choose healthy foods, eat when
you're hungry, and stop when you're full!