Eat Right to Play Hard

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Active kids need fuel for sports, school and everyday health, as well as normal growth and development. When young people are involved in competitive athletics, their need for power foods and fluids is higher than usual.

If you have specific concerns about your child, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in sports nutrition. If your child is on a team, talk to the coach and arrange for a registered dietitian nutritionist to make a presentation to all the players and their parents.

Here are tips to help young athletes get the fuel and fluids they need to succeed.

Power Foods

Athletes need power foods with lots of nutrients and minimal amounts of fat and added sugar. High-energy carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy foods are especially important. Children need extra energy for their sport's practices and games, plus normal levels for growth and brainpower at school. Here's how to provide the carbs they crave.

  • Serve a champion's breakfast. Offer whole-grain cereals or serve muffins made with whole grains and fruit, including bananas, blueberries and raisins. Create an instant yogurt parfait with layers of low-fat vanilla yogurt; fresh, frozen or canned fruit; and crunchy whole-grain cereal.
  • Pack breakfast to go. When morning practices or road trips make sit-down breakfasts difficult, pack a bag with bagels, bananas, apples, string cheese, yogurt cups, juice boxes and low-fat milk for eating on the run.
  • Pack a super-snack bag. Traveling athletes need smart fuel. Fill an insulated bag with high-energy snacks. Use frozen juice boxes, water bottles or reusable gel packs to keep items cold. Help your athlete be prepared for pre- and post-game snack attacks with crackers and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, containers of cut fruit and sliced vegetables with dip.

Power Fluids

Like athletes of any age, children need plenty of refreshing fluids to stay well-hydrated. Fluids are critical to prevent overheating and to remove the wastes produced by active muscles. Being even slightly dehydrated can dramatically affect performance.

  • Teach children to monitor fluid intake with a quick urine check. Regular trips to the bathroom with basically clear, nearly odorless urine indicate good hydration. Not having to urinate or producing dark-yellow, strong-smelling urine means it's time to drink more.
  • Make sure supply keeps up with demand. Children need to drink at least six 8-ounce cups of water per day. Add another 8 ounces for every half hour of strenuous activity. Give kids a personalized water bottle to carry in the car, on the bus, at school and on the field.
  • Choose beverages wisely. Water is always a great, low-cost choice. For activities lasting less than an hour, water will usually provide optimal hydration. For longer activities or when children don't drink enough water, diluted 100-percent fruit juice or sports drinks may increase their fluid intake. New research shows low-fat milk, including chocolate milk, may be one of the most effective beverages for muscle recovery after intense activity.

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