Top 7 things to include in your child athlete’s diet

Body, Spirit

Child athletes have higher energy and fluid needs and may need 500 to 1,000 more calories per day than their sedentary peers. It takes healthy calories and a variety of nutrients to keep young athletes performing at their best. Kids who eat the right amount and mix of nutritious meals and snacks will perform at their peak. 

1. Calcium helps build strong bones to resist breaking and stress fractures.  Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as leafy green vegetables such a broccoli. 

2. Iron helps carry oxygen to all the different body parts that need it.  Iron-rich foods include lean meat, chicken, tuna, salmon, eggs, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified whole grains. 

3. Protein is needed to build and repair muscles.  Total protein intake should account for 10% to 15% of calories.  Protein-rich foods include fish, lean meat and poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts and soy products.  

4. Carbohydrates provide energy for the body.  Carbohydrate should account for 55% of calories (more on heavy training days). Look for whole grain foods like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread and cereal, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.  

5. Fluids are important for young athletes to prevent dehydration, which can zap strength, energy and coordination and lead to heat-related illness. Kids should drink mainly water before and every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity. It’s important to drink afterwards to restore fluid lost through sweat.  Sports drinks may be a good choice for kids who participate in strenuous physical activity for more than 1 hour. After exercising for 60 to 90 minutes, the body has used up its readily available source of energy.  

6. Before exercise:

• ½-1 hour before event: small amount of carbohydrate, limited amount of fat (pretzels and fluids)
• 2-4 hours before event: light meal of moderate amount of carbohydrate, small amount of fat, moderate protein (turkey sandwich, pretzels, fruit, and fluids) 
• 4-5 hours before event: heavy meal with generous amount of carbohydrate, moderate protein and fat (baked chicken, potatoes, fruits, bread, and fluids)

7. After Exercise, kids need to eat sources of carbohydrates and protein (chocolate milk, fruit and cheese, yogurt, graham crackers, lean meats, eggs). Your child’s body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing energy store and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition. 

Eating for sports should be an extension of healthy eating for life, however any child that is training should be gaining weight normally. If weight stabilizes or falls over time, calorie requirements are not being met. Monitoring weight in child athletes is very important.