Teaching our children proper nutrition is key in keeping them healthy. This is especially true for kids who take part in sports. It is important for all kids to become physically active; the national guidelines recommend an hour or so of activity every day. For kids and teens involved in athletic activities beyond that daily hour of activity, good nutrition is crucial for appropriate growth, development, and sports performance.
A basic understanding of good nutrition will develop a foundation for healthy kids and athletes. Balance is the main idea. It's important for all kids to consume foods coming from all the meals groups. The grain group – bread, cereal, rice, pasta, etc. – provides carbohydrates needed for energy. Whole grains like wheat and bran offer vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are full of minerals and vitamins to ensure proper growth, development, and total body functioning. Fruits offer carbohydrates for energy. Dairy foods – milk, cheese, and yogurt – provide carbohydrates, protein, and important vitamins and minerals. Calcium and vitamin D are very important for athletes simply because they build strong bones and are involved in muscle contraction.
Protein foods – the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dry beans, and legumes group – provide protein needed for energy and healthy muscles. Individual recommendations for intake vary, but good nutrition can generally be achieved to eat a variety of foods from different food groups during the day. Added fats, oils, and sweets contribute calories but very little minerals and vitamins. It is okay to add a little flavor for your foods. Be careful, though, about eating meals and drinks that contribute only fats, oils, and sweets. These foods and drinks, such as cakes, candies, and sodas, won't assist you to get ready for your sport.
For kids involved in sports, there are additional nutrition issues to consider. Timing of intake, appropriate hydration, and refueling are three significant issues in sports nutrition.
Timing intake appropriately helps to ensure that a sports athlete has got the right amount of energy and nutrients to participate in their activity. It is usually recommended that athletes, particularly kids, have five to six small meals each day – or three meals plus 2 to 3 snacks – instead of three bigger meals. This can help the body keep levels of energy adequate for activity. Each meal and snack should contain foods and drinks which contain both carbohydrates and protein. Timing also plays a part in preparing for competition. The “pre-game meal” should meet the following guidelines:
- Provide sufficient fluid to maintain hydration (see below)
- High in carbohydrates for energy and blood sugar maintenance
- Moderate in protein
- Low in fat/fiber to promote digestive processing and decrease digestive stress
- Composed of foods/drinks familiar towards the athlete and well-tolerated
Hydration is making certain the body has enough fluids. Because fluids are lost whenever we sweat, this is particularly important for athletes. It is also particularly important in hot and humid climates. Proper hydration doesn't only involve drinking the best fluids during physical activity; it means drinking fluids properly throughout the day to make sure adequate hydration when activity begins. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, particularly if you are thirsty. During sport practices or competitions, drink some water whenever you have a break. If it is a long competition or a large amount of fluid is being lost in sweat, sport drinks are good sources of fluids and electrolytes. However, kids generally don't need to drink sports drinks every time they practice or compete. These drinks can become a source of “empty calories,” giving a feeling of fullness with little nutrients. When kids drink sports drinks, 8 to 12 ounces is sufficient. A 16 or 20 ounce bottle is unnecessary and may hinder proper refueling.
Refueling is giving to the body what it has utilized during activity. To refuel properly, meals or snack should be consumed within half an hour of ending athletic activity. The best refueling meals and snacks contain both carbohydrates and protein. If it is here we are at a meal following a sports practice or competition, refueling is generally simple. However, if it's not an ordinary meal time, you should add at least a “light” snack. Some good examples are peanut butter and crackers, string cheese and a piece of fruit, or a cup of yogurt. Each time you refuel properly, you're preparing the body better for future activities.
There will also be a few nutrients which are particularly significant for athletes to monitor. Iron is essential to carry oxygen within the blood. Low iron will cause fatigue and decreased performance. Iron could be increased with high-iron foods, such as red meats and fortified grains. Calcium is important for bones and muscle contraction. Low calcium can increase chance of stress fractures because the body will use calcium from the bones for muscle contraction. 3 to 4 areas of dairy products each day will help ensure adequate calcium. It can be useful to take a multivitamin daily. Make sure to select a vitamin appropriate for age. Children should never take a grownup vitamin.
For all kids, listening to the body’s hunger and fullness cues will help ensure adequate nutrition. Choose well balanced meals, eat when you’re hungry, and prevent when you’re full!