How to Feed Athletic Kids
What kind of foods are your kids eating on game day?
As my kindergartner started his first “big kid” soccer and baseball leagues this past year, I was shocked with the food choices that parents brought during the season snack rotations. My kid, like the rest of the team, dashed to the cooler when he saw the bags of Cheetos and bottles of Gatorade, while I stood back cringing and shouting “choose the water please!” Sound familiar?
Fueling these bodies properly, whether they are little five year olds or bigger teenagers, not only helps their physical performance but also helps lay the foundation for health and fitness throughout their life.
But where do you start? Getting your kids the right nutrition can be a full-time job. Thankfully, MOMables has already done the work for you! Check it out.
Let’s Talk Hydration:
To help quench thirst, the absolute best drink to turn to is water. Sports drinks can be used every once in a while, but too often, kids think that playing sports necessitates drinking Gatorade. Juice and sport drinks are often high in sugar, artificial sweeteners, and even possibly caffeine.
The sugar, even the natural fruit sugar in juice, can slow down fluid absorption in the body. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes for a 90-pound child who’s playing hard. Another way to think about it: Every 20 minutes, have a younger kid take about 10 gulps (about 5 ounces) of water and have older kids drink at least 9 ounces of water.
Let’s Talk Timing of Food:
Carbohydrates serve as the gas in your child’s engine. Healthy carb choices can come from fruit, breads/beans/legumes, and milk/yogurt. Carbs break down into glucose in the blood, which is the number-one fuel source needed during exercise.
One hour to thirty minutes prior to a game or practice, encourage your child to eat a small serving of a carb, such as an apple or yogurt cup. Avoid fat or too much protein in this pregame snack because that can slow down the digestion of the food, making your child feel more sluggish than fueled.
After the sport, provide your athlete with a healthy snack or meal that consists of both carbs and protein. The carbohydrates will replenish the glucose loss, while the protein will help rebuild muscle. Examples: small whole-grain bagel with 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut butter, turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, or trail mix with fruit and nuts.
While it can be tempting to want to celebrate a great game with treats like a stop at the local donut shop, start your kids on healthier habits by providing them with fresh fruit after the game, and help them get excited about their accomplishments with non–food related celebrations.
Christina Fitzgerald, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and three young sons in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.