Nutrition Tips for Healthy Young Athletes
This year I'm helping coach my son's peewee (3rd-4th grade) football team and I wrote up a quick nutrition handout for the parents, which I thought you may find helpful. Everyone was surprised to hear that chocolate milk is a healthy and great post-exercise drink. Enjoy!
Good sports nutrition for kids, like all good nutrition, starts with a balanced diet. Young athletes need to have energy to play sports and to refuel their body after activity.
Nutrition Tips Before Practice: Breakfast, hydration and snacks
For a physical and mental boost that lasts all day, start off the day with a good healthy breakfast. It is important to balance your breakfast with protein, carbohydrates, and fat. An ideal nutritious breakfast, especially valuable for children and adolescents, might look like this:
- 1-2 eggs, a piece of ham
- A small fruit smoothie (with real fruit like bananas and berries, and greek yogurt)
- And a piece of whole-grain toast with real butter
Every person's body needs water to function. It’s important our young athletes are drinking water throughout the day, not just during practice, to stay healthy. The rule of thumb is:
- Drink ½ of your body weight in ounces of water per day.
So if your child weighs 100 pounds, they would drink 50 ounces of water a day. If they are exercising, you’ll want to add to that based on the intensity of the exercise. Be sure your child remembers to drink a few glasses of water during the day, starting before breakfast. Because our bodies lose water all day, we need to keep fluid intake levels high several hours before practices and games. Chugging water right before exercise can still lead to dehydration – it’s best to be hydrated several hours before exercise.
Healthy meals and snacks
Be sure your child is not loading up on empty calories or high amounts of sugar from snacks or drinks that are lacking in nutrients. Soda pop, energy drinks and even Gatorade can add excess calories that will convert to fat. Rather, fuel your child's body with energy from vitamins and minerals and eat naturally colorful foods like fruits and vegetables. Find creative ways to get your kids to eat their veggies, maybe by adding some ranch dressing as a dip. Also be sure your kids avoid eating too much junk food like donuts, cookies, candy and sugar-cereal. Better nutritional options for snacks include:
- Whole grain granola bars
- Natural peanut butter
- Chips & salsa
- And of course, veggies and fruits
Other important tips for snacking include:
- Avoid fried foods.
- It’s better to have real butter than margarine.
- Also avoid artificial sweeteners like splenda, sucralose, etc.
Make sure your child eats healthy meals or snacks every 3-4 hours during the day.
You might be surprised at the benefits of improved moods and attention spans that come with a healthy and nutritious diet! Not to mention the overall improvement of health and mobility, which will form good life-long habits in your kids. It also helps if the whole family is making healthier eating choices together. Be an example your child will follow!
Nutrition Tips After Practice: CHOCOLATE MILK
Recent studies from the University of Texas show that chocolate milk is the ideal post-workout recovery drink for athletes – much better than energy drinks like Gatorade.
Chocolate milk has the right combination of carbohydrates and protein to help build muscle, burn fat, improve physical performance, improve recovery times, and resupply the body with vitamins and nutrients exhausted during intense workouts or exercising.
Building lean body muscle and lowering body fat to healthy levels is important in the development of young athletes.
It is recommended to drink 8-12 oz. of chocolate milk within 30 minutes after practice, and another 8-12 oz. 2-3 hours later.
The study used low-fat chocolate milk, but other studies indicate that regular (whole) milk may be even more beneficial. Tip: either pre-made chocolate milk, or regular milk with Ovaltine or Nesquik added will work.
If your child has any allergies, please consult a health care practitioner for alternatives. More info:
Good sports nutrition for kids, includes breakfast, healthy snacks and plenty of water, will build a foundation for healthy young athletes — and all kids.