Family and Consumer Sciences Education: Fueling Your Young Athlete

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Summer is here, and your young athlete is likely showing no signs of slowing down. While their natural inclination for physical activity is a slam dunk for long-term health, the possible lack of structure brought on by summer means parents and caregivers will want to watch how their children are fueling their bodies.

According to Nutrition for Kids, a website dedicated to children’s health and nutrition education, you’ll want to keep the following in mind:

Good Hydration

The nutrient of most immediate concern is water. Drink it before, during and after participating in physical activity for best hydration, rather than waiting until thirsty.

Sports drinks are only helpful when excessive amounts of sweat are lost by being out in the heat or participating in vigorous activity for longer than 90 minutes. Stick with water to keep those sneaky added sugars at bay.

Snack Smart

Make time for snacks that will keep your child energized. Yogurt with a banana, baby carrots with hummus dip, or peanut butter with crackers and apple slices are all examples of smart snacks that require minimal time and effort to prepare.

However, if these do not fit into your schedule, or you are needing an option that does not require refrigeration, look for quick, easy, non-perishable bars at the grocery store. They can be a great solution for an on-the-go family. Be sure to check the label for whole ingredients such as oats, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit for best nutrition. Prioritize protein content, while limiting added sugar.

Fuel and Replenish

An eating pattern high in saturated fat and added sugar will only serve to hinder your young athlete, especially right before participating in physical activity. Avoid things like fried foods and candy bars before practices or games.

Be sure your child replenishes their body after being physically active, with plenty of fluids (preferably water) and a nutrient-rich meal or snack with a healthy combination of fats, lean protein and whole grains—think bean burrito or a slice of pizza loaded with vegetables. For breakfast—think fruit and yogurt smoothies or an omelet with cheese and vegetables.

Balanced Nutrition

The more active your child is, the more carbohydrate they’ll need to fuel their muscles. Fatigue, weight loss and lack of endurance are signs the body’s carbohydrate stores need replenishing. Nutrient-rich foods like starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes will do the trick to get them back on track.

The best way to ensure your child is getting all the nutrients their body needs to grow and develop is by encouraging them to eat foods from each of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.