How to Fuel Your Young Athlete
Want to help your young athlete get that competitive edge? Be sure to fuel them with the most wholesome clean foods possible. Both of my children are always bouncing around, love riding bikes, jumping rope and swimming, so that alone calls for good nutrition. My daughter has been in ballet since the age of 2 and now, as she is just about to turn 8, she sees it as more of a sport and has recently talked about continuing on as a professional performer. As her mother and dietitian I am dedicated to supporting her in any way I can, especially on a nutritional level. It is imperative that we, as parents, provide our children with the best, most nutrient dense foods possible; for school, play, health and sports. Yes, I know it is not easy with everything else going on in our lives…but let’s just focus on the importance of wholesome, nutrient dense foods for our blooming athletes.
With it being a fairly wide topic, I am hoping I can break it all down in simple terms. Each of our children are individuals and their nutritional needs do vary, but in essence, athlete or not, they need enough calories (energy!!) to make it through their busy days. As athletes, going through a full day of classes and then on to practice after school, finishing off with homework when they get home, it is IMPERATIVE to begin the day with proper hydration and a nutrient dense breakfast.
- Protein-eggs, lean turkey bacon, tofu, low-fat dairy, protein powder
- Carbohydrate-steel cut oats, whole-grain toast, low-sugar/whole-grain cereal (such as Uncle Sam or Total)
- Fat-this will come from the food sources above, and dairy
- H2O-at least a full glass; 8oz
So they are fueled for the first few hours of the day but before they head off into that sugar-laden, refined carb, highly processed food world, it is your responsibility to provide them with the best fuel for their active day ahead. Here are some ideas for packing their lunches. As we often say here at Super Healthy Kids, get them involved so you are sure they are going to eat it!
- Protein-lean turkey, peanut butter, leftover meat source from dinner
- Carbohydrate-whole-grain bread, quinoa, brown rice
- Fat-walnuts, almonds, avocado
- H2O-plain water, coconut water, water flavored with lemon or oranges
The day of an athlete is not only about school work, it also means recess with our younger one, physical education for those who are blessed to still have it as part of school curriculum and after-school practice. Nutrient dense snacks are important. As a matter of fact, Tara Guidus, Orlando Magic team dietitian, calls it their 4th meal. This is in an effort to encourage more wholesome foods as opposed to the typical snack-like foods like chips, and gummy candies (yuk!). What do sports dietitians advise?
- ½ turkey sandwich,
- Fruit and cheese
- Peanut butter and whole-grain crackers
- Small wrap with hardboiled egg slices
- Hardboiled egg, whole grain toast
- Hummus and ½ pita
In essence, just as stated, this is a small portion of what could be served as a meal. All have a portion of protein, carbohydrates and good fats. I would also add some raw carrots, cucumbers or celery sticks; some type of veggie that is not going to make your athlete feel gassy. Which, it may be worth noting here, game and practice days are not the ones to try new foods. You want to be sure that the foods you are serving are going to be eaten and not cause any undue digestive stress.
During the game that lasts more than an hour be sure there is plenty of water and yes, this is the type of event where sports drinks could be beneficial. Some experts may say no, due to age or the fact that the child may only be sitting on the sidelines, so parents, please do your research and make an educated decision here. In addition to proper hydration during bouts longer than one hour, there is need to refuel. Bananas, oranges, apples and even Fig Newtons are great during the game. You can even try this fig bar recipe.
After the game or an afternoon of practice, there is need for proper refueling to gain back what was depleted. Although it may be thought of as rocket science, it really is not when it comes to feeding our younger athletes. Basically, they need to continue to rehydrate and eat a combination of protein, carbohydrates and antioxidants. The protein is needed to build and repair muscle tissue, carbohydrates are for energy repletion and some fruits and vegetables are needed because of their supply of antioxidants. During exercise, our bodies are hit with oxidation and our powerful rainbow of produce will put out those flames and help get your children back in the game fully recovered.
Ok, so what about timing? Within 30 minutes of practice or a game that was over an hour long, feed your child some protein and carbohydrates. For instance, for all of the parents who are heading to the field on Saturday mornings, have a half turkey sandwich or piece of fruit with a cheese stick ready for them. Don’t want the hassle? How about some of my personal favorite store-bought bars: Lara bars and Cliff bars for kids. If you want to be adventurous, you could try making your own the day before. Here is one fabulous recipe you could try this week! Whats even easier is mixing your own trail mix of dried fruit, mini pretzels (the salt is great for recovery), and nuts.
Then, within the next 1-2 hours following, they will need to replenish again with protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.
- Whole grain pasta, low-sugar marinara sauce, turkey meatballs, small salad
- Brown rice, grilled chicken, sale greens and orange slices
On the go dinner:
- leftovers packed the night before in a cooler, with fruit and veggies
- whole-grain bread with thinly sliced chicken breast, tomato and spinach, banana
So whether you are raising an athlete….
Or just a super active child who loves to play…feed them right!
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
Giving natural juices and healthy food to kids boosts their immunity and helps them to actively involve in any activity. I give green juices and smoothies to my kids which has all the essential vitamins which their body requires.
Yes! Absolutely! My kids get their green & berries smoothies for snacks instead of all the other stuff.
Why don’t you recommend full fat dairy? It is arguably healthier for you, especially young athletes.
HI Amber, That is a really good question. When it comes to children under the age of 2, it is recommended that they are given full fat milk products. Beyond this, it is still typically recommended to choose low-fat. One of the biggest reasons we would recommend dairy for athletes is the calcium (and yes, there are many options in the plant kingdom for this too). The best fats for our young athletes should come from unsaturated fats such as those found in plants and fish. And even still, it is always good to consult between your pediatrician and a pediatric dietitian for a personal dietary plan.
Other than calcium and protein, what else does milk have that is beneficial to a growing child? Because if Casein can cause cancer cells to grow, as proved in The China Study, then why give it to kids? Same for animal protein; is there anything else besides protein and amino acids that meat has thats so beneficial, that we have to risk a child’s health? This isnt meant to challenge or offend anyone in anyway, as I’m just expressing a concern and seeking advice.
Hi, the best way I can answer this, because we are not a diet-specific or diet-prescribing company, is through general thoughts. Super Healthy Kids is committed to helping families develop healthy habits and we have always looked at a full spectrum of foods as far as what is offered in our meal plans.
As a matter of fact, when milk is in our recipes, we simply use “milk” as the ingredient because many families will swap it for their milk product of choice; almond, coconut, fat-free of full fat, etc.
What we also do, is encourage our Super Healthy parents to become informed when it comes to avoiding certain foods altogether. If you feel stongly about the amount of research out there regarding cows milk, then please, follow what you feel is best for your family.
This is simple and efficient. Thank you!