For Young Athletes, Healthy Eating Starts at Home

Getting kids to eat enough can be a challenge. If they aren’t out shooting hoops on the driveway, they may be at practice or on the way to a game. Between balancing a hectic schedule and making sure homework is done, it can be tough to monitor what kids are eating and how much of it is actually fueling them for sport.

In general, a balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats, and protein will be enough to fuel your young sports star. For a child who is involved in high intensity sport, however, the energy and fluid requirements will be higher.

On average, energy consumption of school-aged children should be 45-65% from carbs, 10-30% from protein, and 25-35% from fat. Just as importantly, kids should also drink 3.5L of water, or about 6 bottles (Health Canada, 2005).

Following Canada’s Food Guide can help ensure your child is getting the right amount of nutrients from each food group for a healthy, balanced diet. In the spirit of following Canada’s Food Guide, here are a few tips to ensure your athlete is getting enough fuel to keep them going on, and off, the court.

1. START THE DAY RIGHT

Make sure your child eats breakfast—every day. It’s not a myth that this is the most important meal of the day; eating breakfast helps kick-start our metabolism after a night’s rest and gives kids the energy they need to start their day off right. A balanced breakfast should include carbohydrates and protein. Try an omelette with their favourite veggies, a glass of milk, and a slice of whole grain toast.

2. INCLUDE ALL FOOD GROUPS IN MEALS

Balanced meals helps your child achieve a balanced diet, while combining pairs in each snack gives them variety. This also ensures that your child gets all the nutrients they need to keep their energy up. In particular, kids need to consume higher levels calcium and iron (kidshealth.org, 2015). Calcium helps build strong bones while iron helps our blood carry oxygen to organs and muscles. Calcium is found in dairy products like milk, yogurt, or cheese, while iron comes in many sources such as lean meats, fortified whole grains, and leafy vegetables.

3. ENCOURAGE KIDS TO EAT WHEN HUNGRY

Hunger is a sign that our body is running low on fuel.  Encourage kids to eat when they are hungry and provide them with a variety of foods to choose from. The best snacks feature two food groups, and include some form of protein. Peanut butter-topped apple slices, or whole grain crackers and cheese make a great snack and are healthier alternatives to sugar-filled granola bars or chips.

4. MAKE MEAL TIMES A FAMILY EVENT

Building healthy eating habits is just as important as exercise, especially at a young age. Get your child involved in cooking to promote healthy decision making when it comes to diet choices. Preparing food together gives kids a sense of accomplishment and shows you want them to to perform at their best. Using fresh local ingredients exposes children to variety and allows them to try new foods in a positive environment.

5. DRINK UP!

The body’s thirst mechanism is a poor indicator of hydration. This is especially true for children, who are poor regulators of body temperature. Encourage your young athlete to drink water every 15-20 minutes during intense exercise (kidshealth.org, 2015). Water will almost always be enough to keep them hydrated, but rare occasions (a busy tournament schedule for example) may warrant a sports drink to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during play.

Remember, if you are concerned that your child is not eating enough consult your doctor or seek the services of a Registered Dietitian. Making sure your superstars get enough fuel can be difficult, but with the right tools you can ensure they’re always ready to get in the game!

How do you ensure your kids eat well? Got a snack suggestion they just can’t get enough of? Let us know in the comments below!

Headshot - Danielle Emmons (Small)Danielle Emmons holds degrees in Kinesiology and Exercise Science & Lifestyle Management, and is pursuing a career as a kinesiologist. An avid athlete and sports fan, Danielle is currently a High Performance Intern with Canada Basketball.

 

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