Nutrition No-No’s for Fueling Kids’ Sports

Summer sports camps or workout programs can demand lots of energy from children and adolescents. The older they get the more kids might become in-tune with their nutrition and hydration needs, but as a parent it is your job to make sure your children get adequate fuel and that you don’t cut out things they need nutritionally. Lots of people apply nutrition principles to sports nutrition, when in reality, the tables are turned. A child that is running, jumping and sweating has different nutrition needs than a child sitting at home playing video games or from an adult at work all day. Cutting out some basic things could potentially hinder their performance and energy levels, not help them. 

As a sports dietitian that works with adolescent and young athletes as well as collegiate athletes and pros, I have seen many parents put their kids at an energy disadvantage or at risk for cramping because they were trying to apply basic nutrition to a high intensity, active lifestyle of a child. So, there are a few summer-camp no-no’s you need to pay attention at as parents.  Mark these 5 down:

  1. Don’t cut the salt: Yes, most sedentary Americans should limit their salt intake to help reduce their risk of high blood pressure. However, when you sweat you lose sodium and potassium, aka electrolytes. Thus, kids that sweat a lot lose a lot of sodium increasing their need for it in the diet. Allow your children to salt their eggs and veggies in addition to eating salty snacks like pretzels, whole grain crackers and even popcorn as this can help replace what they sweated out. 
  2. Don’t restrict calories: Many parents get nervous when their children start eating a lot, but the reality is they could be growing in addition to expending hundreds of calories in exercise. If your child is attending camp or workouts every day and it seems like they are eating you out of house and home, let them! The reality is they likely need the calories to provide energy and help them recover from their workouts. It is important to teach kids about intuitive eating, but many kids need extra calories in the summer because they are exercising and playing more versus sitting in school.
  3. Don’t rely on just water: Water is a great hydrator, but not always a great re-hydrator.  As mentioned, when we exercise and sweat, we burn off sugar and sweat out electrolytes thus increasing our need. Though water provides fluid, it does not provide carbohydrate or electrolytes. Thus, allowing kids to drink a sports drink right before, during and after a workout can help them replace what was lost. It is not necessary all day, but around a workout it serves a purpose. 
  4. Don’t flip-out over post-workout sugar: Yes sports drinks, chocolate milk and post-workout ready-to-drink shakes have sugar. They are supposed to! Exercise of any kind burns carbohydrate causing a demand for it post-workout. Simple sugars like that found in milk and flavored milks, sports drinks, smoothies and the like are actually ideal as they digest faster. The faster things digest post-workout, the faster recovery can begin. It’s not to say your child should be eating candy all day, but around workouts simple sugar is helpful for active kids.
  5. Don’t forget a bed-time snack: Many athletes have practices or sports camps in the morning during summertime and most cannot get up and eat a full breakfast before they go. Ideally yes, eat a full breakfast, but often times there is not enough time in the morning. Including a nutrient-rich night-time snack like Greek yogurt with granola and berries or a fruit smoothie or even our Game Day Goodie Bar with low-fat milk will help get your child ready for the next day’s workout. Giving their body something to work off of while they sleep will help prevent it from tapping into its stores of nutrition. Then fuel of up with a larger pre-workout snack before you run out the door in the morning and your kids should be set and ready to go.

For more tips on fueling youth athletes, check my flipbook, The Sports Nutrition Playbook!

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