Whether it's football, cross country, soccer, volleyball or some other physical activity, sports are an are excellent way to help children learn how to work well with others and develop skills and confidence. Sports also help them stay active and fit, preventing obesity.
You may already be spending much time and money on lessons and performance training for your child. However, how much do you spend on teaching them how to fuel their body to meet the demands of the activity and support good health?
Lessons learned in childhood carry through life. Making healthful eating a priority early will provide a major return on investment – whether the child goes on to be an Olympic athlete or simply a healthy, active adult. The goal when fueling your young athlete should be to help them perform well by eating foods that fuel their muscles, provide satisfying energy and keep their muscles and immune system strong and healthy.
Eating to Boost Your Child's Health and Sports Performance
- Optimal nutrition should be attained with sound dietary practices that are applied on a daily bases, not just a few hours before or during competition. This means making healthy eating a priority today and every day.
- Rely on natural foods not “engineered foods” like bars, gels and sports drinks for optimal nutrition. Bars, gels and sports drinks may be useful to supplement fueling needs during prolonged events but should not be used in place of real food.
- Encourage plenty of fruits and vegetables that are loaded with vitamins and minerals, full of electrolytes and natural sugars. Selecting watery fruits and vegetables (such as watermelon, oranges and tomatoes) helps replenish fluid loss. They are also are affordable and taste great.
- Prevent dehydration with water, the natural thirst quencher. It is easily to obtain and replenishes fluid stores quickly. Energy and sports drinks often contain caffeine and loads of sugar – things not needed by your child. Sports drinks are usually not necessary for events lasting less than 90 minutes. Providing the child with adequate fluids daily, such as water and proper nutrition, will supply them with the energy needed to perform well. It is recommended to consume water about every 15 minutes during exercise and at least 8 – 16 ounces of fluid after.
- Adequate protein is necessary for proper fueling, tissue repair and muscle. Protein is best obtained from meats such as poultry, fish, lean beef and pork, or vegetables like soy, beans and tofu. Protein powders are expensive and not necessary for a healthy diet.
- Avoid highly processed foods or fast foods. Sure, they are convenient, but they are also loaded with the unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugars – all things your young athlete does not need.
- Lead so they will follow. The best thing you can do to help your young athlete develop healthy eating habits is to set the example. Emphasize eating three small balanced meals and 2 – 3 mini-meals instead of one large meal. Perfect mini-meals include a piece or cup of fresh or frozen fruit and Greek yogurt, cut-up veggies and hummus, and apples and peanut butter. These types of snacks encourage healthy eating but are also quick and easy.