Feeding Your Child Athlete
All kids need to eat balanced meals and have a healthy diet. But should that balance change for kids who play on a sports team or work out?
Kids need to eat the right amount and mix of foods to support that higher level of activity, but that mix might not be too different from a normal healthy diet. Eating for sports should be an extension of healthy eating for life.
Nutritional Needs of Young Athletes
Kids who eat healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks will get the nutrients needed to perform well in sports. The MyPlate food guide can provide guidance on what kinds of foods and drinks to include in your child's meals and snacks. The child athlete, however, will have higher energy and fluid requirements.
Kids and teens who are involved in all-day competitions or strenuous endurance sports (like rowing, cross-country running, or competitive swimming) that can involve 1½ to 2 hours or more of activity at a time, in particular, may need to consume more food to keep up with increased energy demands.
Most athletes will naturally eat the right amount of food their bodies need. But if you're concerned that your child is getting too much or too little food, check in with your doctor.
In addition to getting the right amount of calories, it takes a variety of nutrients to keep young athletes performing at their best:
- Vitamins and minerals: Kids need a variety of vitamins and minerals. Calcium and iron are two important minerals for athletes. 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 as broccoli. 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.
- Protein: Protein is needed to build and repair muscles, but most kids get plenty of protein through a balanced diet. Strong muscles come from regular training and exercise and too much protein can lead to dehydration and calcium loss. Protein-rich foods include fish, lean meat and poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts, and soy products.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs provide energy for the body. Some diet plans have urged weight-conscious adults to steer clear of carbs, but for a young athlete they're an important source of fuel. There's no need for "carb loading" (eating a lot of carbs in advance of a big game), but without carbs in their diet, kids will be running on empty. When you're choosing carbs, look for whole-grain foods like whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread and cereal, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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