7 Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes

Seven Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes

How can you contribute to your child’s best overall performance in sports (besides being their biggest cheerleader)? Providing an overall healthy diet is one way. Nutritious foods are needed for our children’s growing bodies, especially if they are active in sports. A healthy diet is essential to provide enough calories for growth and all of the energy expended during activity.

A healthy diet also is needed to improve performance and potentially reduce injury, improve physical and mental well-being, and reduce recovery time between competitions.

 Proper nutrition plays an important role in daily energy levels as well as keeping energy levels high before, during, and after exercise, so we have seven nutrition tips for you and your young athlete.

Focus on Pre-Activity Meals

Provide a nutritious meal two or three hours before exercise. Choose foods high in carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains and fruit. Choose foods low in fiber to allow for easy digestion.

Choose foods that are moderate in protein and healthy fats to allow for easy digestion. Lean protein, such as in chicken breast, reduced fat milk, lean turkey, a hard cooked egg, low-fat yogurt, or a cheese stick are great options. Healthy fat examples include fat from nuts, nut butters, avocado, and healthy oils.

Put the Spotlight on Pre-Activity Snacks

A snack should be given one to two hours before the activity to allow time for digestion. The snack should consist of carbohydrate and lean protein.

Avoid Junk Food, Especially Before Activity

Junk foods typically contain saturated fat and simple carbohydrates. Fatty foods are hard to digest and the simple carbs can create a quick boost in energy followed by a drop in energy levels. Also, avoid new foods since you don’t know how your child’s body will react to them.

Hydrate Properly

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), managing fluid and electrolytes correctly can enhance sports performance, especially if exercise lasts more than 60 minutes.

Maintaining proper hydration begins before the activity. It’s ideal to drink water regularly in the 24 hours before exercise. Two hours prior to the event, the AAP recommends drinking about 16 ounces of water. Then 30 minutes prior to the event, drink at least 8 ounces of water.

Keep hydrated during exercise. Children should not wait until they are thirsty to drink water. They should drink 4 to 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes throughout the exercise event. And don't forget to hydrate after exercise. Have your child drink about 16 ounces of water soon after exercise.

Choose Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks Wisely

In most cases, sports drinks are not needed on the sports field and energy drinks, containing large amounts of caffeine, should never be used. Plain water is best for most children involved in physical activity, but sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities.

Don't Forget to Refeul

Athletes should refuel with fluid and food within one to two hours of activity. This is important for muscle recovery and critical if there are multiple games in a short time frame, such as at a tournament.

Aim for a carbohydrate and a protein food source no more than 30 minutes after the activity. If your child has produced a lot of sweat or has been exercising in the heat, consider offering foods that contain the electrolytes sodium and potassium. For the next meal, have a balanced, healthy meal following MyPlate recommendations.

Pack an Ice Chest

Have an ice chest packed with the nutritious foods and water that you need if you’ll be at the field all day long. Some ideas include a variety of carbohydrates, such as bananas, dried or fresh fruit, and applesauce for quick refueling, as well as protein sources, such as lean meat or nut butter sandwiches, yogurt, nuts, hard-cooked eggs, and low-fat milk. This will keep you and your athlete from being at the mercy of whatever foods are offered at concession stands.

No matter what your child’s level of sports prowess, giving him or her the best nutrition to compete with a strong body and strong mind will score you a win every time.

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