This Summer, your child is playing hard to become a better athlete. They might be having fun at Summer Soccer Camp or just out in the park with friends. No matter where they play, they need to be fueled and healthy. And there’s more to staying healthy, hydrated, and active than a bottle of Gatorade.
So what is the best diet for young athletes?
Young athletes need good, wellbalanced diet to grow strong and stay active. Check out some of the tips and strategies we recommend to keep your son or daughter active and happy all season long.
Why nutrition is so important
You don’t need us to tell you that your kids are burning through so much energy! Those were the days, right? So when they are on the field, it is essential to keep them fueled and ready to keep playing.
A wellbalanced diet means your son has the nutrients to build healthy muscles and your daughter has the hydration to keep her body working at peak performance.
As children grow, they need carbs and protiens and healthy fats at much higher amounts than we do as adults. Did you know a healthy teenage boy should eat at least 3000 calories a day? And that’s before he starts practicing for soccer season 5 days a week!
You might be cutting calories or reducing fats, but your son or daughter still needs those calories. Healthy kids need healthy nutrition.
Throughout the season
Sports parenting is a big responsibility. As parents, we are there to cheer our kids on, coach them, pick them up when they are down, and make sure they are ready and excited to go again tomorrow.
One of our big responsibilities is providing our kids with the energy they need to succeed. On season and off, it is our job to teach our children how to eat healthy. With healthy eating habits, they will do better in school, make healthier life choices, and perform better on the field. Everyone wins!
Calorie consumption requirements
Kids need calories. Active kids need more calories. The math is simple.
Recent studies have shown that children ages 4 to 6 need 1800 calories a day. Active teenage boys need 2500-3000 calories a day, while active teenage girls should take in around 2200 calories daily.
These are big numbers!
So how does your child get their calories in a healthy way?
Your son or daughter should be eating a well-rounded diet of carbohydrates, protien, and good fats every day. These are the building blocks of energy that our bodies use for fuel to build healthy muscle, tissue, and, in your child’s case, grow! Good, wholesome foods also supply your child with vitimans and minerals like Vitimin D and calcium for their growing bones, Iron for strong muscles, and Vitimin C to stay healthy overall.
We know that life is busy, especially during sports season, but finding the time for real food with real nutrients will make a difference in your child’s energy and success. Processed and prepackaged foods tend to leave out the important, natural nutrients your son and daugther needs. Try cooking with your kids as well. Not only will you get to spend quality time together, they will learn the building blocks of a good meal along with you.
Best foods and drinks
Almost all unprocessed foods are good for kids: lean meat, poultry, fish, fruits, and vegetables (these are also healthy for us parents, too!).
But as we’ve seen, kids can handle other healthy, high-carb or high-fat foods. If they are not allergice, nuts and seeds, including nut butters, are great for kids. They provide healthy fats and keep kids satisfied. Pair them with apples or celery for an easy, age-old snack.
Your kids should also eat yogurt. While some yogurts (we’re looking at you, GoGurt) are overpackaged and overprocessed, natural, low-ingredient yogurts come in a range of delicious flavors. Along with cheeses and milk, these dairy products pack a great calcium punch. Yogurt also has healthy probiotics to keep tummies happy.
Don’t leave out whole grain products like whole grain pastas and breads. These high-fiber, healthy carb staples are great to have on hand for lunches and a quick weeknight meal. Your kids will get the fuel they need without all the empty starches.
Foods and drinks to avoid
It goes without saying that your child should be avoiding sugar. It also goes without saying that kids love sugar! Hey, we all do! But there are ways to avoid those sugary sodas, snacks, and – the worst culprit of all – sugary breakfast cereal!
Instead of sugary sodas, keep 100% juice around in small, easy-to-grab containers for when your child wants a sweet drink. Trail mix and homemade granolas make great snacks – grab a handful! And instead of those sugary cereals, go for whole grain pancakes with real maple syrup on mornings when that sweettooth needs a fix. And if you’re in a hurry, check out some of the less-processed grab-and-go bar options from health-conscious brands like Kashi, Kind, and RxBar.
Stay away from processed meats, especially the kid-favorite, the hot dog. They are loaded with salt and nitrites; no matter how much you want to preserve your kids, don’t fill them with preservatives!
Other foods to avoid include food items that say “Fruit!” Unless it says “100% Fruit,” chances are that item (fruit bites, fruit snacks, fruit bars, etc.) is more sugar than actual healthy fruit. Read your labels closely.
It is definitely important to get to the big game healthy and fueled up. But it is just as important to show up healthy and ready for Thursday afternoon practice, the weekend scrimmage, or Monday morning at camp. And since our bodies need time to turn food into fuel, we need to teach our sons and daughters that healthy food and drink choices need to happen everyday, not 20 minutes before the game starts.
Carbs are your friend
We’ve all heard of “carb-loading” that some runners do before big races. As with any big nutrient change, it’s important to know what works for your body. Dramatic changes are rarely good. So start working on some everyday habits with your kids that include healthy carbs – don’t just save that spaghetti dinner for the night before the big game.
The body turns carbohydrates into glucose, which feed the cells that grow muscles. Our body can use the energy from carbs faster and better than most other energies, and kids’ bodies are in need of lots of carbs. Try to include healthy, whole grain products in your shopping list and keep fruits and veggies handy. A bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter is a great way to get kids to eat healthy – encourage them to grab whatever is there whenever they feel hungry! You can’t go wrong.
Hydrate all day every day
The rule for hydration is that you should always be drinking healthy drinks (water, milk, 100% juice). Teach your kids that when they feel thirsty, that’s not their body telling them it is time to drink; it’s their body saying they are already out of hydration!
Make it easy to drink lots of water by having water bottles ready to go. Sure, you can buy small, grab-and-go cases to keep handy, but one great way to keep your kids hydrated is to let them pick out fun, reusable bottles. Keep a few full of healthy beverages in the fridge at all times and you’ll give your kids the convenience they need to stay hydrated game day and everyday.
Protein for recovery
Protien shakes may be all the rage, but encourage your child to seek out great, whole foods to recover from their workiouts. Proteien helps your body repair muscle as well as stay strong for long periods of time. So before and after that soccer game, make sure your child is getting some good protien. Homemade trail mix, full of healthy nuts and seeds, is a great snack between school and the game. Eggs, poultry, and fish are all great sources of protein, too, so whip up an omlette on those late nights, or grill up some chicken on the weekend. Your son or daughter needs at least 15-20% of their calories from protien to keep strong and fit.
One great resource for eating healthy is the USDA MyPlate website. Here you can find some great staregies for healthy snacking, hydrating, and ideas to keep your whole family active.
If you are looking for some great meal and snack ideas, try one of our favorites.
Pancakes are great for breakfast, or really any time, and this recipe is extra good with a boost of healthy blueberries (frozen or fresh) and big-time power from the ultimate athlete food: bananas. They taste delicious and your kids won’t even know they’re getting extra super-fruit power (unless you tell them!).
Tacos are always a go-to way to eat healthy and have fun. This version let’s your kids build their own cupcake tacos before you put them in the oven. Bringing kids into the kitchen with you is a great way to teach them how to eat healthy.
And tacos are endlessly changeable. For a lighter option, try ground turkey; add more veggies and beans for a protien and fiber boost. Swap out gluten-free tortillas anytime. The sky is the limit!
With 3 easy ingredients, your son or daughter gets a boost of protein and healthy fat from almond butter, antioxidant and fiber boost from an apple, and food that’s fun to play with! You can’t beat it!