As a parent, you are continually trying to provide the best for your children. Your young athlete participating in sports is no exception. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 26.6% of children aged 6 to 12 were active through sports. Sports participation places a nutrition demand above the requirement for growth and development. Proper nutrition is important for peak performance, while supporting normal growth. With many children involved in sports, you may feel challenged to provide the best nutrition for your own little athlete. Here are some recommendations for you to consider when providing nutrition for your young star.
Carbohydrate is the primary macronutrient and fuel source for working muscles.
Carb loading is not recommended for children, as most athletic events are short term (< 60 min).
Carb sources include whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread and cereals, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Dehydration has been shown to decrease athletic performance in children.
Sports drinks should be used only during vigorous physical activity that last over an hour or when temperatures are hot or sweating is heavy.
For events under an hour, water is sufficient as no major loss in electrolytes has occurred.
For the growing athlete, protein is used to build, maintain, and repair muscles and other tissues.
A common misconception: protein itself does not build muscle tissue. Adequate consumption of energy (aka carbs) and protein with exercise builds muscle.
In general, children already consume 2-3 times the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein, so there is no concern of children lacking this nutrient.
Include a wide variety of protein sources such as nuts, seeds, plant-based, and animal-based.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and Vitamin D are required to build strong, dense bones, especially for the growing athlete.
Sources of calcium include, collard green, broccoli, and dairy-products such as Greek yogurt.
Food sources of Vitamin D are limited, but can be found in fatty fish such as salmon or Vitamin D enriched foods.
Iron is necessary for growth, development, maintenance of normal cellular function, and creation of certain hormones.
Adolescent athletes have higher needs for iron due to growth. Iron is the most commonly reported nutrient deficit in child and adolescent athletes.
Iron can be found in iron-enriched foods, beans, spinach, tofu, and beef.
Making sure these nutrients are adequate may not only improve performance, but will help support your child’s growth and development. Nutrition is an individualized endeavor and a “one-size fits all” approach may not be enough. If your child has specific sports nutrition needs, it is recommended that you reach out to your pediatrician or a local Registered Dietitian for guidance.