Monday, May 6, 2013

How to Feed Your Young Athlete

Proper nutrition can keep active children nourished and healthy — and even give them an athletic advantage. The key to peak performance is whole foods.

Children holding tennis rackets
The key to peak performance is whole foods.

Faster than the Flash, stronger than a Lego fortress, more powerful than a Jedi mind trick, who is this super being? It’syouryoung athlete, courtesy of a healthy nutrition plan tailored to unleash their awesome potential.

Proper nutrition can keep active children nourished and healthy — and even give them an athletic advantage. The key to peak performance is whole foods.

Pre-game

About 3 hours before a game or competition, offer an energy-boosting meal to top off glycogen levels (muscle sugar). This could be peanut butter on a banana with toast, or a turkey sandwich and pita chips, plus at least two cups of water. Keep the meal low in fiber and fat, as these take longer to break down and may not be digested by game time.

An hour before competition, add a smaller snack. Consider half of a natural granola bar, homemade trail mix, or a small fruit smoothie.

During Exercise

If exercise lasts longer than an hour, a serving of juicy fruit like orange wedges, melon slices or grapes can help extend energy. About five to nine ounces of water should be consumed for every 15-20 minutes of activity.

Post-game

Tired muscles crave nourishment. Within 30 minutes, have a snack that includes carbohydrates with a little bit of protein to boost recovery. This could be whole grain crackers with cheese and fruit or pita bread and hummus. The next big meal should occur within two hours of the game and offer more lean protein (fish, eggs, chicken or lentils), whole grain carbs (quinoa, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta) and veggies to assist with muscle repair and energy replenishment. And don’t forget water!

The more quality whole foods your champion consumes, the more they can shine during competition. Practice makes perfect. Start your winning meal plan today!

--By Liz Oba, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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