Food for the Young Athlete

Street hockey, backyard soccer, recreational basketball, Little League and swim team... The opportunities to participate in sports with qualified and supportive leadership are wonderful these days. From the day they are born, children delight in their bodies and what they can do. They are proud of their strength and speed, and joyous when they can run with abandon. They race each other across the yard, climb trees and swing from ropes into the lake.

Once your little athlete starts school, she'll have all kinds of chances to join more organized sports. There is a dramatically increased interest in sports, even amongst the younger children. This interest in athletic performance is wonderful for their health, provided that the intensity of involvement is not excessive. The focus needs to stay on skill development and pleasure rather than winning. Most of us are natural competitors. The point is to make the competition your own self. How can I run a little faster? is the question, not, How can I run faster than Jamie? (That motivation will come in plenty of time.) Instilling a sense of balance now will help them go into those teenage years with a better perspective on winning and losing, and with a better sense of themselves as an athlete.

Older athletes have often concocted bizarre diets in hopes that a certain magic potion will give them the edge they need to win. But even though the Greek athletes had training diets, the science of sports nutrition is embryonic. There is no foundation to support such contrived diets that include protein powders or megadoses of vitamins. And studies on the nutritional needs of the child athlete are almost nonexistent.


So if no studies exist, how do you know which foods are best? Common sense, basic nutrition knowledge and few insights are all you need. Just as for anyone else, a varied diet that follows the food pyramid recommendations is best. For the hard-playing, growing young athlete, good nutrition is a key component of athletic performance.

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