Kids who play sports need plenty of fuel to meet their needs for energy and growth—anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 calories per day. These calories should come from a varied diet that contains plenty of carbohydrates (for energy), protein (for building and repairing muscles), adequate fat, and plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. In addition to balanced meals, nutritious snacks before and after games or practices help provide steady energy and help your child's body recover faster after exercise.
Providing your young athlete with adequate healthy calories can sometimes be a challenge when you're racing from school to practice or competition. Commercial bars and sports drinks are easy to grab, but aren't necessarily the best or most frugal choices to fuel up your athlete. You can provide him or her with healthy, inexpensive snacks straight from your kitchen. Here are some portable and nutritious suggestions:
On the run with no time to pack your own snacks? Many fast food places offer healthy choices. Look for bagels or low fat muffins, a grilled chicken sandwich, salad, a baked potato, or a turkey, chicken, or veggie sub. Avoid high fat foods (like hot dogs or potato chips) because they take longer to digest than lighter snacks. Also avoid high sugar snacks — your young athlete might feel an initial energy boost, but that boost will soon be followed by a crash.
Active kids have a harder time cooling their bodies than adults, so adequate hydration is even more important for them. Kids shouldn't wait until they feel thirsty, but should drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. Plain water is a great choice and the only liquid necessary unless the workout/activity lasts longer than 90 minutes or your child has been sweating intensely. (However, sometimes kids will drink more if their beverages are flavored.)
It's just as important to refuel and rehydrate after the game or practice. To replenish energy stores used up in activity, experts recommend eating carbohydrates within 30 minutes after intense activity and again two hours later, if possible. Simple choices include cereal, a piece of fruit, or some trail mix. Besides water, good beverage choices post-workout include milk, chocolate milk, and unsweetened juices.
Helping your young athletes eat to win doesn't have to be complicated and it can be a great chance to teach healthy eating for life. Stock up on plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat dairy products and you'll always have healthy choices available to keep them well-fueled.
Join SheKnows' Shay Pausa as she goes down to the pantry to get easy tips from nutritionist, Michelle Dudasche, on preparing healthy snacks for your kids.
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