Fuel kids for sports and play
Parents and volunteer coaches of children’s sports have lots to juggle—schedules, uniforms, equipment and carpools, just to name a few things. Proper fuel and fluids also demand attention for children and teens to perform their best. Wise parents realize that offering healthy choices will support positive lifelong habits, as well as the ability to feel good, play hard and have fun now.
The goal is a balanced, varied diet, high in carbohydrates and fluids. Kids thrive on routines they can count on and access to regular meals and snacks. In fact, they need to eat about every 2-3 hours! On average, school-age children need the following each day:
- 6-9 servings of bread, cereals, grains (half of which should be whole grain)
- 2-3 fruit
- 2-3 dairy
- 2-3 meat (5-6 ounces total)
- 6-8 cups of fluid throughout the day (water, fruit juice, milk, sports drinks, soup, fruits and vegetables are all good fluid sources.
Plan to succeed. Plan and shop in a way that keeps healthy choices at hand when needed. This is the best way to ward off “emergency” trips to the vending machine or drive-through where options are limited and costs higher. Parents can help by teaching kids to include appropriate snacks and beverages along with their sports equipment for after-school refueling before events.
Timing is important. Children and adults alike play and compete best when schedules are managed to allow adequate time for snacks and meals to be digested before exercise. It takes 3-4 hours for a full meal to digest, 2-3 hours for a smaller meal to digest, and about an hour for a small snack to digest. Muscles and brains run on carbohydrate, so pre-game meals should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, with moderate amounts of protein.
Fluids should be encouraged before, during and after physical activity, especially when temperatures soar. Sports drinks have advantages for intense activity of an hour or more. They are also well accepted by children, encouraging adequate hydration. Water, milk and juices are fine for more moderate pursuits.
Try these fuels and fluids. Here are some grocery list items worth keeping available to fuel active kids. Pack them for hikes, day trips or team sports events. A few, like dairy and meat items, require a cooler; others are safe in book bags and lockers at room temperature.
Cynthia Fauser, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist