Nutrition for the young athlete

Protein: Protein is important in moderation. The role of protein in sports diets has been blown way out of proportion. Protein is necessary for tissue building and repair. But eating excessive amounts will not build bigger or stronger muscles. Kids age 6 to 10 need about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. On a daily basis that comes to about 24 to 28 grams of protein. Drinking two to three glasses of milk, a serving of meat, fish or poultry, and a variety of whole grains and some vegetables will more than meet daily protein needs. Spread out protein intake over the course of the day. Too much protein can lead to dehydration since the kidneys will pull water from the body to help dilute the excess nitrogen (a breakdown product of protein) in the urine. For this reason steer away from protein powders and amino acid supplements.

 

Fat: Fat is important to young athletes in order to help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, and to supply essential fatty acids. When eaten in moderation, it can be a concentrated source of energy. Very active children need lots of energy and will need moderate amounts of fat in their diet to meet that need. Fats should be primarily mono-unsaturated or polyunsaturated, and should make up no more than 30% of calorie intake.

Vitamins and minerals: They don't provide energy, but they are necessary for releasing the energy from the foods you eat (e.g. B vitamins) or getting that energy to the muscles (e.g. iron) What scientific studies are available do not indicate any increased need for vitamins and minerals in young athletes. Eating a well balanced diet is necessary to get the amount you need in their proper proportions.

Liquids: Besides calories, the other nutrient needed in greater amount by the young athlete is liquids. They are the most important part of an athlete's diet. Fluid is important to prevent over heating and dehydration. Because muscles heat up during exercise extra fluid is needed to maintain the blood volume so that the circulating fluid can reach into the muscles and carry the heat away to the skin. The heat is released by primarily by sweating . Sweating, without replacement fluids can lead to dehydration. Dehydration's first symptom is fatigue...not what a successful athlete needs for optimum performance. More than any other nutritional factor, too little fluid can effect your young athlete.

 

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of fluid imbalance. That is because they don't handle heat well, they get hotter during exercise, and their hearts have a lower blood output. Be sure your child drinks water before, during, and after exercise. Supply him with his own water bottle that you can see through. Check regularly to be sure he is drinking. Children may not notice the need for liquid or the signs of overheating. Careful monitoring on your part is important, especially on hot humid days when sweat does not evaporate effectively so cooling is not as efficient. Watch out also if your athlete wears lots of protective clothing that may interfere with proper cooling, like football pads or hockey equipment.

The best fluid replacement is water, but if your child is more apt to drink if it is flavored, than a sports drink or a diluted juice (at least one to one) would work. A full strength juice or juice drink has too concentrated a source of carbohydrates and could lead to nausea and cramping if drunk during an athletic event. Afterward, water containing foods along with liquids are a good way to replace both carbohydrates and fluids. Juicy fruits like watermelon, tomatoes, grapes, and oranges are good choices.

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