What are the best foods to help fuel my child athlete?

children swimming

Carbohydrates

The main nutrient that fuels our body is carbohydrates. The more "whole" the carbohydrate is, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta, the longer the fuel will last. Carbohydrates can be found in:

  • All types of grains such as rice, wheat, oats, quinoa, as well as products made from those grains including pasta, bread and crackers
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas, beans and corn
  • All fruits and their juice
  • Milk and yogurt (although cheese is much lower in carbs and higher in fat)

Protein

Protein is needed for growing and healing, but the idea that children, and especially young men, need to eat loads of protein "to build muscle" is false. Eating 2 to 3 servings of protein is adequate for kids ages 6 to 12, totaling about 6 ounces in a day. Foods with high protein include:

dried fruit and nuts
  • Beans/legumes
  • Animal meats: beef, poultry, pork, lamb, seafood
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products

An easy way to remember the correct serving size for protein: the size of the palm of your hand. Keep in mind the palm of your child's hand is much smaller than yours; their needs reflect their size!

Fats

avocado

Healthy fats are important to help us feel fuller longer and they help aid a long list of essential functions in our body. When eaten in large quantity, especially before a game, fats can make your child feel heavy and slow down their digestion, making it difficult for them to use their meal as fuel. The fat found in nuts and avocados are more supportive than cheese, fatty meats or deep-fried foods.

Snacking

It may be hours between lunch and afterschool practice, so packing a few easy snacks to have on hand will help top off the tank without being too heavy before practice. It may be as simple as a piece of fruit, some trail mix, a granola bar or yogurt. Try to include something with carbs for the energizing aspect, and include a little protein and fat for the longer burn affect.

Hydration

Proper hydration very well could be equally if not more important than the food we eat. Water is the most essential nutrient to our body. Carrying a water bottle can help make drinking water throughout the day an easy habit.

by Leika Suzumura, R.D., former PCC Nutrition Educator

More about: nutrition, PCC Healthy Kids

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