Nutrition for Young Athletes

by Susan on February 10, 2014

Nutrition for young athletes

Nutrition for Young Athletes
by Susan Kihleng

As moms, we’re often headed in a gazillion different directions a day.  Some of us have kids in multiple different sports and are literally being pulled in different directions.  I write a lot on nutrition for us as moms, but how do we keep our young athletes in good health with their demanding schedules?  Thankfully, I am blessed that all of my kids are in the same sport and it’s a year round sport (swimming).  But even so, with kids on different levels we spend most afternoons driving back and forth between pools, not to mention those wonderful 5:30 AM practices for our teenage son.  As my oldest swimmer began to face such crazy practice hours, my first question was “What (and when) should he eat?”.  There were times when he just couldn’t make it through a whole practice and would get dizzy or cramp up.  That was a sign he wasn’t being fueled properly.  So I began doing research and here’s a bit of what I learned.

  • Hydrate!  Water is the most important thing to be pushing into our young athletes as dehydration can come on so fast during an intense practice.  I’ve learned to push several cups of water before practice plus keep them supplied with water bottles for during practice (1 per kid is NOT enough!).  Then I continue encouraging the water after each practice to make sure they replenish the fluids lost.  My oldest also drinks the same Results & Recovery formula that we use after intense workouts.  I’ve found it to be a much better alternative to sports drinks like Gatorade, which are loaded with sugars, artificial flavors, and artificial colors – NOT something I want in my kids! (Note: while the R&R formula packets cost a little more than the bulk tub, I find it much more convenient to have the packets on hand to throw in his swim bag)
  • Fuel properly with food.  By viewing food as fuel, we focus more on WHAT they eat.  McDonald’s cheeseburgers are just not going to cut it!  Realistically, young athletes that are involved in intense training need a LOT of calories – a good 3,000-6,000 a day, depending on how hard and how frequently their training is (and obviously take into consideration the age of the athlete – your pediatrician can help you better calculate their exact caloric needs).  You are going to want their diet to be higher in carbohydrates than anything else.  Brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas, quinoa,  and oatmeal are all good choices for carbohydrates that will fuel your young athlete.  Potatoes and sweet potatoes are also good choices.
  • Snack wisely.  Just eating a normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not going to be enough.  Keep healthy snacks always available.  If your young athlete goes straight to practice from school, have a good snack ready to eat on the way.  My kids like to eat burritos, bananas, energy bars (I make my own to make sure they get good stuff in them!), yogurt, and raw nuts to fuel up after school on their way to practice.  My early morning swimmer fills up on things like eggs, oatmeal, and sweet potato before practice.  Keep extra snacks in their sports bags for longer practices or competition days to kept them fueled – packs of nuts, whole grain crackers, cheese sticks and yogurt tubes are good if you have a way to keep them cold, protein bars or granola bars, raw veggies, bananas, tangerines, apples, raisins and other dried fruit, pretzels, and rice crackers.
  • Get in the nutrients.  Veggies should make up a huge part of your young athletes meals.  Make sure there are good vegetable choices in their lunches (this is why I do not rely on the lunches the school provides – I send lunch with my kids – click HERE for more on that).  Dinner should always consist of at least 2-3 vegetables.  We also always start each day with Shakeology so I know they are getting the nutrients they need.  My teenager gets a whole serving while my 4 younger ones each get half a serving.  Here’s our usual morning recipe, their favorite:  Ice, almond milk (unsweetened), handful of raw spinach (shhh, don’t tell – they’ve never caught on to this!), 2 tbsp natural peanut butter, 1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology.  Blend till smooth.  They love it!
  • Supplement as needed.  Often we just don’t get the nutrients we need from our food and with the added stress to our bodies of intense training, it’s easy to end up with a lowered immune system.  My younger kids take Yummi Bears gummy vitamins by Hero Nutritionals (I order them through Vitamin Shoppe but I’m sure they are available other places as well); my teenage athlete takes the P90X Peak Performance vitamin packs as these are designed for high intensity training.  Whenever we’re in times of heavier training or frequent competitions, I boost their immune system with Herbal Immune Boost (I swear by this stuff – I haven’t had a cold since I started taking it!).  Be wary of cheap drugstore vitamins (such as Flinstone Kids and One A Day) as these are synthetic vitamins, NOT from whole food; they are also loaded with artificial sweeteners and colors!

Our kids are juggling school, sports, and home life plus just trying to have fun being a kid.  They’re not thinking about their health or whether or not their last meal was enough fuel for their next practice.  That’s our job as moms, and while it’s a tough job sometimes, there isn’t another in existence that’s more rewarding!  Now, go fuel your kids and then cheer them on!

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