The Right Way to Fuel Your Child Athlete

I’ve had kids playing sports for more than 15 years (just typing that out makes me feel so, so old) and time and again, I’ve noticed one thing that just about every practice or game has in common.

Junk food.

Doesn’t that surprise you? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Admittedly, I’m a self confessed health food aficionado – although I have been known to dig into some french fries time and again – but I really have a hard time with the foods that many kids are offered after a difficult game. My kids have been given corn chips, candy bars, fruit snacks, squishy fruit punch pouches and even sodas. Rarely are there healthy choices offered.

I’ve been the team mom many times, and although I have often requested that healthier snacks be offered, the overwhelming concern is that kids just won’t eat them. A Sports Moms Study, funded by PepsiCo, found that more than 70% of moms are raising kids in competitive sports. The study found that sports moms spend 1/3 more time and more than twice as much money across their children’s extracurricular activities than those families without kids in sports. According to the study, the area in which most moms feel that they have the highest level of influence is their athlete’s nutrition. As parents, we try to do the very best for our children. We put them in safety seats, we give them vitamins, we make them eat their vegetables and get enough sleep. Offering the best choices to fuel them for sports is just as important. After all, you are what you eat, as we’ve heard time and again.

Watch a soccer team played by a group of 10 year old kids, and you’ll see the same intensity, the same focus and effort, as many professional teams. As grown ups, we plan for our workouts with both pre- and post workout recovery plans, and we owe it to our children and their future health to teach them the necessity of this. Many of us have good intentions, but getting started is more difficult than we anticipate. Try some of these guidelines to help you begin!

Check out online initiatives. Gatorade has recently started the Sideline Moms Initiative. Designed to give sports moms the information that they need to educate themselves on proper nutrition, the website holds a wealth of knowledge. Topics cover a wide range from fund raising, avoiding injuries, to how to pack a great sideline snack. MomsTeam is another great site.

Be a good example. Do you train hard at the gym and then stop for a milkshake on your way home? Kids are always watching. Toss a protein bar in your glove box and keep a water bottle handy. Studies have shown that if your child sees you eating well, she is more likely to do the same.

Talk to your kids. You may think that your children ignore everything you say – the fact that I have to say, “Close the door!” a hundred times a day is testimony to that fact. But they are listening, so don’t give up. Talk about what a body needs to perform well. Discuss the effects of protein on the muscles, how vitamins help your body do the things it needs to do and how proper nutrition can make a huge difference in their results. When you are tired of talking, talk some more. I was recently delighted to hear words I’ve said ad nauseum parroted out of my daughter’s mouth when a friend chose french fries for lunch. They do listen. They do learn from what you are saying.

Don’t forget after game nutrition. 75% of moms in the above mentioned study did not know that in order to help promote muscle recovery, their athletes should consume protein within a 30-60 minute window post-exercise. Good protein sources for kids include nut butter, either in a sandwich or a squeeze pouch, a protein recovery shake, cheese and crackers or lean lunch meats. In a pinch, a bottle of fruit juice with a scoop of protein powder shaken in makes a quick and filling choice, one easily consumed by the muscles.

Talk to other sports parents. You will have more of an impact on the nutrition of the entire team if all of the parents are on board, so at the beginning of the season, see if you can work together to create a team nutrition guideline. Discuss after game snacks and try to have many options available. Often others want to pick healthy choices but are stymied. Having a list of appropriate choices makes it easy for the overwhelmed and overworked parent – hello, all of us. Check out these healthy and delicious snacks for kids for some ideas.

Enlist the help of the coach. Before the first practice, sound out the coach. A good coach wants what’s best for the team.

Bribe your kid. If all else fails, bribe your kid. Those Doritoes look really good, but maybe there’s something he wants more. Offer to make a switch that works in his favor, and soon he will see that the proper nutrition is making a difference in his performance.

Don’t forget hydration. Water and recovery drinks are vital to the success of your child. Being properly hydrated is not only important during the game, but both pre and post game as well. 70% of athletes show up to their games dehydrated – and that’s before they’ve run one step! (source: above Gatorade press release) Discuss the importance of being properly hydrated and how it affects muscle memory, critical thinking and endurance. Being dehydrated can make your athlete slow and can have a detrimental effect on performance. Make sure that you offer plenty of water the day before the big game, as well as during and after.

Also Read:

Teach Your Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

Healthy Summer Snacks for Kids

The Benefits of Martial Arts for Kids

Hydrate Like Michael Phelps

Eating Advice from Female Olympic Athletes



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