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Nutritional requirements for young athletes

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

Eat to compete

Give your child a competitive advantage by making sure that he or she is well nourished for daily practice and sporting events.

Young girls' soccer team

"Young athletes are still growing, developing and learning, and they need exceptional nutrition to enhance their sports performance and fuel their lives," says certified nutrition coach Jenny Giblin.

Don't make food the enemy

Weight-management concerns and eating disorders are often found to be more prevalent among student athletes, according to Giblin.

"When you approach food from the point of view of nutrition — without counting calories or carbs — and focus on antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, you will see food in a totally different way that enhances your life," she explains.

Stay hydrated

"Ideally, you should drink at least half your weight in ounces of water every day, with at least two glasses coming after practice," advises Giblin, who recommends drinking pure water or coconut water with slices of lemon or berries to add nutrients.

Eat well every day

An athlete doesn't have to eat the same foods every day — there are a lot of healthy ways to mix things up. Giblin's guidelines make it easy to choose foods that will fuel your child's body in a well-rounded way.

PSpinach rotein

Shoot for 2 to 3 daily servings of protein. Good sources of protein include lean meat, eggs, spinach and oatmeal.

"One hundred calories of spinach or kale contain twice the amount of protein (about 11 grams) as 100 calories of steak (about 5 grams)," says Giblin.

Assorted fruitFruit

Aim for 3 to 4 servings of fruit every day. The freshest fruits are those that are locally in season. Enjoy the basics — such as apples, bananas and oranges — and experiment with more exotic options like passion fruit and dragon fruit.

Dairy productsCalcium

Calcium does a body good! You'll find calcium in milk, cheese and yogurt.

"If you have a food allergy, consider coconut milk and coconut oil," suggests Giblin.

sweet potatoVegetables

Your child needs 5 servings of vegetables in addition to his daily intake of fruit. Look for recipes featuring sweet potatoes, snap peas, cherry tomatoes and other powerhouse veggies.

breadCarbohydrates

Young athletes should eat 3 to 5 servings of carbs every day. Good sources of carbohydrates include cereal, bread, granola, pasta and rice. If you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, look for gluten-free versions.

Eat light to heavy for optimal nutrition

"Digestion uses up most of our body's energy, about 70 percent," explains Giblin. "Start with fruits and vegetables and then move on to carbohydrates or protein to make sure that your body is spending energy efficiently and absorbing the nutrients in your food."

Supplement when necessary

Supplements do not take the place of nutrition that comes from whole foods. However, dietary supplements can help replace nutrients, fluids and electrolytes that your student athlete uses up while preparing for her sport.

Have a snack before working out

"Eating a little something before a workout can help an athlete have more endurance and strength during the workout and less soreness after the workout," says registered dietician Ilana Muhlstein. "A half-cup serving of unsweetened applesauce is like an energy shot of 15 grams of carbs. It will provide instant fuel for your athlete to burn off during the workout."

Enjoy an after-practice treat

Chocolate milk is a perfect recovery drink," says Muhlstein. "It has the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein that can prevent soreness and cramping later in the day."

And kids love it!

More on student athletes

The benefits of team sports
The ideal menu for tournament day
When girls take sports too far

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