Kids are always on the go. That especially rings true for kids who play sports. Parents should remember that active kids burn more calories. Along with running around to practices and games, they should be making sure their kids are getting the right nutrition for young athletes with growing bodies.
Nutrition Recommendations for Young Athletes
“Parents should keep in mind that children involved in various sports will need to eat more frequently and eat more carbohydrate-containing foods than the child with the normal physical activity level,” says registered dietitian Laura Casterline, a nutrition counselor at Nutrition in Motion.
Pediatric registered dietitian Bibina Varughese, a nutritionist at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, agrees. She suggests serving snacks and meals for young athletes that include both carbohydrates and protein. “Whole-grain carbohydrates are a better choice over one's without that fiber content,” she says. “Whole-grain, multi-grain foods will provide a longer lasting energy for young athletes.”
Energy Foods for Kid Athletes
Varughese recommends serving protein for kid athletes, which should be from lean, low-fat, low-sodium sources. Spread throughout the day, these meals “are beneficial to helping prevent muscle loss and build muscle,” she says.
There are many great nutrient-rich energy foods for kid athletes to enjoy. “The key is to make sure that your young athlete is getting a good variety of fruits and vegetables in their diet,” Casterline says. “Make sure their plate is as colorful as possible.”
The five staple foods of sports nutrition for kids that Casterline suggests serving to your child athlete are:
- Sweet Potatoes: They are high in fiber and beta-carotene, an essential antioxidant found in orange fruits and veggies for kids.
- Oatmeal: It’s high in fiber and great to use in recipes for energy bites or bars. An easy-to-eat snack to take on the road to sporting events, our Protein Poppers have essential protein for kid athletes, along with wholesome oats, sunbutter, and coconut.
- Avocados: They are an excellent source of omega-3 fats. Guacamole, avocado toast and avocado brownies are great ways to incorporate more avocado into the diet. Try avocado sliced on top of our Bowl of Yays. The protein-rich rotini and antibiotic-free and hormone-free Angus beef provide excellent nutrition for kid athletes with a well-rounded profile of fats, carbohydrates, and protein.
- Eggs: They are an excellent source of vitamin B, which gives athletes energy. Eggs are a cornerstone of nutrition for young athletes, and are also rich in protein. Try them in our Savory Egg & Cheese Omelet, featuring ooey gooey cheddar cheese and served with a side of our signature hash browns. This nutritious and quick meal is packed full of protein for kid athletes to keep them energized from school to soccer practice.
- Greek Yogurt: This energy food for kid athletes is rich in calcium to help build bone mass as the young athletes grow. Blend it with fruit to make a smoothie to drink after practice or a game.
Drink Up: The Importance of Hydration in Sports Nutrition for Kids
According to Varughese, nutrition for young athletes also entails consuming water before, during, and after strenuous activities. But if your kid isn’t a fan of the taste, Casterline suggests adding frozen or fresh fruit, such as lemon or lime.
Although water should be the main source of hydration to provide well-rounded nutrition for kid athletes, sports drinks can be used in moderation to replace electrolytes. This is warranted only during longer duration (more than one hour long) activity, repeated same-day sessions of exercise, and hot weather that could result in excessive sweating, says Varughese. “If parents are looking to get a electrolyte-supplemented beverage for their young athlete, it is important to read the food label,” she says. “Look for one with lower carbohydrate (sugar) content. This is to prevent weight gain with excess intake of calories.”
Too much or too little of electrolytes can cause cramping. “So, it is important to be conscious of amounts needed,” adds Casterline.
Recovery Meals for Young Athletes
“Replenishing the body with nutrients used during activity is important,” says Varughese, adding that guidelines recommend athletes eat recovery foods within 30 minutes of exercise, and again within one to two hours of exercise.
Recovery foods are the building blocks of meals for young athletes that help the body to recover after a workout or sporting event. “They are important to help decrease soreness and fatigue, prevent injury, and improve performance,” says Casterline, adding that recovery foods should contain both protein and carbohydrates in order to provide proper nutrition for young athletes. “Protein is needed to heal and repair muscle mass, and carbohydrates are needed to aid in the absorption of protein into the muscle mass, and to reload the glycogen stores to refuel our body’s energy.”
Foods That Young Athletes Should Avoid
One word: sugar. “Young athletes should be conscious of over-consuming added sugars in their diet,” says Casterline. “Simple sugars cause highs and lows with blood glucose levels throughout the day, which can be detrimental to their performance.”
Sports nutrition for kids should focus more on plant-based fats and less on animal fats, says Casterline. “This will help with those anti-inflammatory properties and also help establish better eating habits at a young age.”
Varughese adds that child athletes should allow at least three hours for proper digestion to “prevent any stomach issues during exercise or games.” They should also avoid high-fat meals and snacks before physical activities.
A Sample Plan of Nutrition for Kid Athletes
Casterline offers this sample plan for meals for your young athletes:
- Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs with bell peppers, onions and salsa, and a slice of avocado toast on 100 percent whole wheat bread.
- Lunch: Chicken salad (chicken, olive oil mayonnaise, grapes, walnuts) lettuce and tomato in a spinach wrap with a small bag of potato chips
- Pre-workout Snack: Banana with peanut butter
- During Game: Gatorade and orange slices or oatmeal energy bites (oats, honey, peanut butter) at half time
- Post-game: Low-fat Greek yogurt with granola and fresh or frozen berries
- Dinner: Roasted chicken with steamed broccoli and roasted sweet potato.
Sports nutrition for kids means providing your young athlete with the right foods to energize while helping them grow. Keep the above tips in mind as you consider the wholesome snacks and meals your young athlete will love to eat.
For even easier meals that are still full of nutrition for your young athletes, try any of the meals at Yumble. All of our delicious meals and snacks are delivered fresh and fully prepared right to your doorstep. Simply pick the plan that works best for your family, from protein-packed breakfasts to energy foods for young athletes, and Yumble will take care of the rest! No cooking required!