Fueling School-Age Kids for Sports

Fueling School-Age Kids for Sports

Many parents put more time and effort into choosing equipment than thinking about what their kids are eating. But how do you help their game from the inside out?

By By Jane Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth

Perhaps your daughter plays basketball or soccer. Or your son is an avid swimmer or baseball player. You probably make sure they have the right shin guards, gloves or cleats to help them perform their best. But what about the food that goes into their bodies?

Many parents put more time and effort into choosing equipment than thinking about what their kids are eating. But how do you help their game from the inside out?

Eating properly for activity is important, as it helps your child:

  • Prevent low blood sugar, which can cause fatigue, headache and lightheadedness. These can have other causes too. So check with your doctor if your child has any of these symptoms.
  • Settle their stomach and ward off hunger.
  • Fuel muscles and brain with energy to perform physically and mentally.

Covering all bases
Usually, sports-minded kids do fine just eating a balanced diet of healthy meals and snacks. They may just need more calories. On a daily basis, make sure their diet includes:

  • Carbohydrates to fuel the body. Carbs should form the base of their diet and provide about 55 percent to 60 percent of total calories. Restricting carbs can cause kids to feel tired and worn out, which ultimately affects performance. Fruits, veggies, pasta and whole-grain breads and cereals are the best choices.
  • Protein to build and repair muscle tissue. Protein should count for about 15 percent of total calories. It can be found in meats, seafood, eggs and poultry, as well as beans and nuts. Smaller amounts are found in grains and vegetables.
  • Fats to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and give long-lasting energy. Encourage healthy sources (up to 30 percent of total calories) such as low-fat cheeses, nuts, seeds and peanut butter, olive oil, avocado and lean meat. Fatty foods can slow digestion, so it's a good idea to avoid eating these foods for a few hours before and after exercising.

For game day or practice
The best pre-game meal includes carbohydrates and protein for energy, but not too much fat, which can slow digestion.

Here are some guidelines on what to eat and when. Keep these in mind if you are in charge of bringing snacks to the game or practice:

1 to 2 hours before the event. Keep it simple.

  • Fruit or vegetable juice or fruit
  • Glass of milk
  • Yogurt

2 to 3 hours before the event. Choose foods with some protein and carbs.

  • Cereal and milk with fruit
  • Crackers and low-fat string cheese
  • Bagel or an English muffin with light cheese or glass of milk - go easy on cream cheese or butter
  • Granola bar (less than 10 grams of sugar) and glass of milk
  • Low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and fruit
  • Smoothie made with low-fat milk, juice and fresh or frozen fruit

3 or more hours before the event. Again, choose foods with protein and carbs, but can have larger portions and a small amount of fat.

  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Turkey, chicken or lean roast beef sandwich with low-fat mayo
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and low-fat cheese

Avoid feeding them up to an hour before they exercise. Otherwise, their bodies will be busy digesting the food instead of using it for energy. Also, if the food has not had time to digest, it can make them feel sick, bloated or crampy.

Fluid needs
For proper hydration, it's important for your kids to drink before, during and after they exercise. Water is the best choice, alone or mixed with a little fruit juice. Sports drinks have a lot of sugar and calories. They are a good choice if your child will be exercising for more than 90 minutes or in really hot weather.

Finally, your children should avoid sugary stuff like sodas or candy bars right before they practice or compete. Though sugar can give an initial energy boost, it can leave them feeling drained in the long run.

Sources:

  • President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Nutrition and physical activity: fueling the active individual. Research Digest. 2004;5(1):1-8. Accessed: 05/09/2012
  • Children's Hospital - University of Denver. Eating for sports. Accessed: 05/08/2012