Athletic Nutrition For Kids

Your child athlete gives 100% on the court. Make sure the food she’s consuming is doing its part, too. Read on to learn how to make smart food choices, and how to plan healthy and nutritious meals that will give your child athlete the boost she needs.

Kids and taco bar

Make smart choices

When it comes to properly feeding your child athlete, you might be surprised to discover there's no special diet required. In fact, as celebrity nutritionist Ashley Koff, RD, points out, it's not about creating a special diet, but choosing the most nutrient-dense foods. Get the whole family involved in selecting healthier food options, starting with going organic. "Organic is key because it gives you the biggest nutrition 'bang' for each bite. When pressed for time, make an organic pizza (or heat up a frozen one) and keep the leftovers. This way, when your child wants pizza, they can have it without compromising their health," Koff said.

In addition to going organic, you may need to rethink your previous beliefs about sports-themed snack bars and beverages. "Steer your kids clear of poor quality bars and drinks marketed for sports performance; some can actually be dangerous. At best, they're extra calories, but they're low in nutrition." Koff said.

Koff also advises child athletes to avoid any artificial foods or products high in sugar. "The tendency is to think 'they need fuel' and to translate that to low quality carbohydrates, 'My son has practice, so he'll burn off that doughnut.' Yes, he will, but his body hasn't gotten what it needed most -- nutrients," she explained. Instead, opt for calcium, magnesium and other minerals, which can be found in whole grains, organic dairy, seeds and beans.

Check out this article for more tips on improving your child athlete's eating habits >>

Pre and post-game prep

According to certified health and nutrition coach Lisa Consiglio Ryan, pre- and post-game and practice fueling is extremely important. "Be sure the pre- and post meals and snacks are balanced with a good fat, protein and carb (like fruits or veggies). Pre-game fueling should begin about two hours before the game," Consiglio Ryan said.

For the post-game meal, Consiglio Ryan suggests children eat a snack that mirrors the pre-game meal, only using smaller portions. "The carbohydrate-rich snack should also have protein (think fresh fruit, or crackers and cheese), and should be eaten within one hour of the game," she said.

Hydrate

In addition to fueling before and after games, it's also important for child athletes to stay properly hydrated. "Make sure your child is drinking water before, during and after games and practices. If the body isn't well-hydrated, the energy will go toward regulating temperature instead of to the muscles, which limits playing ability and can lead to heat stroke, exhaustion or muscle cramps," Consiglio Ryan said.

Hydration can also be found in other sources. "Bananas, coconut water, avocado and potatoes are all great sources of potassium, which helps hydrate the body," Koff said.

Go green

Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach and Romaine lettuce include chlorophyll, which is crucial for child athletes. "Chlorophyll cleanses and oxygenates the blood, which is a true performance enhancer," Consiglio Ryan said. "Having more oxygen in the blood translates to better endurance and an overall reduction in fatigue."

For more nutrition information for young athletes, check out this article >>

Meal ideas for child athletes

As you're brainstorming healthy meals for your child athlete, keep these expert meal ideas in mind:

Do-it-yourself taco bar

"I find that a taco bar works great!" Koff said. "Use organic corn tortillas, guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce, sauteed veggies (including spinach, cauliflower and carrots), cheese and fish, meat or beans. Kids love assembling tacos 'their way.'"

Athletic Spaghetti

Fuel up your child athlete with whole grain or quinoa spaghetti served with marinara sauce (with vegetables or ground turkey), along with a green, leafy salad.

Check out this article for more healthy snack ideas for young athletes >>

Advice for parents of athletes

The role of parents and coaches in youth sports

Don Lucia, coach of the University of Minnesota's men's hockey team talking about parents and coaches in youth hockey.?

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