Proper Fuel for Children’s Sports Performance

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My young children are already competitive athletes. My daughter plays on a travel softball team, and sometimes her tournaments last all day. Six games in two days to be exact. In order to get her through those long days and playing at her peak performance I pay special attention (even more so) to her nutrition needs. Fortunately, my daughter loves fruits and most vegetables. So getting her to eat those things is not the issue. She tends to not eat enough of the “tummy fillers” or carbohydrates on game day (or really any day). I almost always have to say, “Eat your sandwich. Then eat your fruit!”. Otherwise, she will easily wolf down half a watermelon, some grapes, an apple, and while she may fill up on that, an hour later she is hungry. Carbohydrates remain in the body longer, fill up the tummy, and digest easily and slowly to maintain blood sugar levels.

Rather than relying on the concession stand at games to feed  competitive athletes, I encourage parents to pack a healthy, well balanced lunch and healthy snacks to ensure their child’s performance level. Eating greasy, cheesy, oil dripping nachos and fries once in a while is not detrimental to a child’s overall weight and health when given in moderation. However, eaten in the middle of games or tournaments, these types of snacks will effect the child’s performance at that given time.  Those types of foods sit in the stomach and take hours to digest. Sometimes leaving the child with a stomach ache, gas, cramps, fatigue, and low energy. Also, candy and gatorade, or other sports drinks, have a high sugar content which also leads to tiredness and lack of energy.

Speaking of sports drinks, not only do they contain high amounts of sugar, but high amounts of sodium. Both of these can actually lead to dehydration, cramps, and nausea. Perhaps a child will be more apt to hydrate if their drink is flavored. If so, dilute the sports drink with at least 50% water or more. Gradually back off with the sports drink until the child will drink straight water. Research has shown that sports drinks are unnecessary for children’s sports performance. They are better suited for endurance athletes such as ultra marathoners or triathletes. If you haven’t read my post on hydration check it out.  Depending on a child’s age and size he/she should be consuming 5-9 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes. One trick to helping your child drink more water is to mark off their water bottle or buy a water bottle with the ounce levels on the side.

Besides packing fruits and vegetables, some great “tummy fillers” or complex carbohydrates are whole grain breads and pastas, pretzels, graham crackers, bagels, and cereal. Peanut butter or hummus are healthy proteins to eat with these easily digestible foods. Yogurt (especially Greek for added protein…..still working on my own children to eat this!) is a wonderful addition, but look for ones that are low in sugar and additives. Plain yogurt is best, and you can make any combination you want by adding fruit. Blending it at home and then freezing it in silicone pop molds is a healthy snack on the go. Plus these molds cut down on packaging therefore reducing waste in the earth’s landfills.

We need to think of our bodies and our children’s bodies, the way we think of our vehicles. In order to have our bodies living at their best, we need to properly maintain and fuel them, just as we do our cars. High performance cars do not run well on low grade gas, just as athletes do not perform well when they eat greasy, salty, sugary, fatty foods. Whether you’re an athlete or not, every body does not live well when not properly fueled. Feeling fatigued? Have low energy? Have trouble concentrating? It could have something to do with what you are feeding your body. It is well worth looking into dietary changes that will last a lifetime, and give you back your edge. Your drive. Your energy. Your MIND!

My guess is that parents feel that “just this one plate of cheese fries won’t hurt” so why not let them have it? I agree that all foods should be eaten in variety and moderation and I am not saying that you should deny your children these special, treat types of foods. However, there is a time and place for them. By establishing healthy eating habits at a young age will allow our children to make better choices in their teen and adult years.

While I still may be known as the “crazy snack lady” on the game fields, at least I can now say I am a certified health coach. Add that to my athletic training degree/certification and I believe I do have some merit speaking up about healthy living and sports performance! Healthier food and beverage options are in abundance. They may take extra time and effort to prepare, but your child’s overall health and sports performance is worth it! Aim to properly fuel their muscles and prevent fatigue with fruits, veggies, complex carbohydrates, protein, and WATER! Check out earlier posts for more snack options.

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