Guest Post By Brooke Lowther
Proper nutrition for young athletes is very important but, feeding kids in sports can be tricky. The more active your kids are, the more nutrition they need to keep their body’s going. How can you feed your young athletes when they are always on the move and, more importantly, what foods can help your kids excel at the sports they love?
Healthy Snacks Perfect for Feeding Kids in Sports
Feeding kids in sports nutritious snacks is just as important – and most of the time easier – than making sure they are getting full heathy meals. In many cases kids are missing meal time as they travel to sports arenas and they don’t feel like eating a large meal before they head to a four hour gymnastics practice. Treat the snacks you give your young athletes as if they are mini meals by including protein, carbs, whole grains and plenty of fluids.
You might be tempted to grab a quick burger and fries at the drive thru, a power drink from the gas station, or a muffin at the coffee shop, but this doesn’t provide proper nutrition when feeding kids in sports. Once in a while, it may be ok to grab the convenience food, but if this becomes your weekly routine while shuffling busy kids between activities then your little athletes may be missing out on key nutrition their growing bodies need.
Their growing bones, joints, muscles and cardiovascular health depends on a diet high in key nutrients. Kids in high aerobic sports & strength building activities like hockey, soccer, basketball, swimming, gymnastics, dance, martial arts and rock climbing (to name a few), need foods that provide lots of protein, carbs and proper hydration to support muscle energy before their big game and muscle recovery after their activities.
Time can be limited as you are racing from practice to school to games or competitions but it is important active kids don’t skip breakfast, forget to pack a lunch or miss dinner altogether.
- Use travel time in the mornings for whole grain cereal, greek yogurt and a glass of orange juice to fuel early morning activities.
- Pack a high protein lunch to make sure they still have fuel for after school activities.
- Provide a couple of mini meals to get through evening practices and game days.
Nutrition for Young Athletes
What do you feed your kids that are always on the move? Hard-working bodies need more than just empty calories – they need protein for building muscles, carbohydrates for energy and plenty of fluids to keep them hydrated. Think glass of milk rather than fruit punch for hydration; choose almonds instead of fishy crackers for a high protein snack, whole grain wrap with nut butter instead of a drive thru plain bagel, and orange or apple slices for a sweet treat instead of candy.
Protein for Muscle Building & Recovery
Protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery in all kids and especially important for kids who spend a lot of time being active. It is crucial for all of their bodily functions, including cell generation and repair, and important for children as they grow esspecialy when doing many hours of sports each week. As kids gets older the amount of protien they need will increase. Children between 7 and 14 require 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so a 12-year-old weighing 90 pounds, will need 40.5 grams of protein daily. Kids in long hours of sports may require more depending on their level of daily activity.
Carbohydrates for Energy
Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for active kids. Healthier carbohydrates are complex carbs found in whole grains, rice, cereals, and dairy. They break down slower, allowing blood sugar (and energy) to rise gradually, are generally higher in fiber, and provide vitamins and minerals. They will keep your athlete feeling full longer and give them needed energy to keep going during long practices.
Fill water bottles with regular ice water or add flavor using frozen berries, lemon wedge, cucumbers, or lime. Fruit punch in a pouch is not proper hydration for active kids. Sports drinks are usually not necessary for the average practice or game unless you know your child will be sweating excessively. Sport drinks offer added sodium and carbohydrates to replace lost electrolytes that endurance athletes require, but simple ice water is usually enough for the after-school super star.
Favorite Snacks & Mini Meals
Balanced meals are always the goal but if time is tight and activities run into overtime, strive for nutrient rich healthy snacks and simple mini meals.
- Banana with Nut Butter
- Healthy Grain Bar with Seeds like IronKids Nutrition Bars
- Cheese String and Kielbasa
- Oatmeal Muffins, Pancakes or Hot Cereal
- Veggies and Hummus
- Trail Mix with Almonds, Whole Grain Cereal
- Hard Boiled Eggs and Fruit
- Greek Yogurt and Fruit
- Whole Grain Protein Bars or Cookies
- Protein Shake or Smoothie
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Healthy Mac and Cheese
- Tuna Sandwich with Carrot Sticks
Feeding kids that are in many hours of sports each week can be tough as you are always rushing from early morning practices to school or from school to hours of evening activities. Focus on mini meals and healthy snacks that contain protein, whole grains, fruits and plenty of water. Making sure that they are getting proper nutrition is key to their performence as young athletes.