Robin Werner, MS, RD, shares meal ideas to properly fuel young athletes, as well as the key nutrients necessary—and the foods that provide them—for active children.
Meal Planner (A Little Inspiration)
Breakfast should include a source of quality protein and sufficient complex carbohydrates to keep children sufficiently fueled. An omelet with whole grain toast, some hash browns, and a glass of orange juice is a great choice. Or try a bowl of oatmeal with slices of banana and berries and a Greek yogurt.
Something as simple as a turkey sandwich with two slices on whole wheat bread, some lettuce, and a teaspoon of mayonnaise, and a ¼ cup of baby carrots is an ideal lunch that won’t make your child feel bloated or weighed down.
Nuts or trail mix with dried fruit make a nutrient-dense snack if your child wants or needs to eat during his activity. Smoothies are also a healthful choice that kids enjoy. They are easy and fun to make and you can either prepare them beforehand and transport them in insulated travel cups, or throw one together when you get home. If kids are involved in making smoothies, they will be more inclined to drink them. Ideally, you want to give your child just enough sustenance to replenish his energy and tide him over until dinner.
Dinner after a game or activity should also include roasted, baked, or broiled lean cuts of poultry or fish; greens such as steamed or sautéed broccoli; and a side of whole grains such as brown rice, pasta, or quinoa topped with some parmesan cheese. Including beans such as chickpeas will add nutritional value to her meal.
Key Nutrients and the Foods that Provide Them
Kids’ muscles prefer carbohydrates! Therefore, roughly half of your child’s total daily calories should come from carbohydrates, a more efficient source of energy than protein or fat.
Think: grains such as cereals, breads, quinoa, rice, and pastas (at least half of which should be whole grains), all colors and types of vegetables, fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned are fine, but limit fruit juice), and low- or non-fat dairy products
Grade-A Choices: bananas, potatoes, and fat-free or low-fat yogurt or milk contain potassium and carbohydrates, which are particularly important for refueling after exercise.
Fat provides the main fuel source for endurance sports. Calories from fat are a good source of fuel for the active child, providing a higher concentration of energy than carbs or protein, optimal for low to moderate intensity exercise like cycling and walking.
Think: unsaturated fats such as nuts and seeds, avocado, fish, poultry and lean cuts of meat, and vegetable oils
Guidelines: Children between the ages of 4 and 18 should keep their total fat intake to between 25-35 percent.
Protein is not a preferred source of fuel for physical activity. Protein, of course, helps kids grow and build muscle, but children typically need less than you might think.
Think: lean or low-fat meat, poultry, or fish as well as plant-based proteins such as soy products, beans, peas, nuts, nut butters, and seeds
Guidelines: Younger children only require 5-20 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein, while older children need 10-30 percent.
Water is the most vital nutrient. And it’s the best choice for staying hydrated. Physically active children need to stay well hydrated to prevent overheating and to aid in removing the wastes produced by active muscles. Being even slightly dehydrated can dramatically affect performance.
Guidelines: Children need to drink at least six 8-ounce cups of water per day, with an additional 8 ounces for every half hour of strenuous activity.
H20 Alternatives: Dilute 100-percent fruit juice or sports drinks—these help to supply carbohydrates that can be used to replenish energy. Low-fat milk, including chocolate milk, may be one of the most effective beverages for muscle recovery after intense activity, new research suggests.
Proper Nutrition Guidelines for Young Athletes
How to Keep Young Athletes Injury Free