Behind every healthy, active and agile child, there is a mother who constantly worries about providing him balanced and nutritious meals. And if your child participates in some form of sport or physical activities, you need to be extra careful about providing him meals that ensure proper growth, development, stamina, flexibility, endurance and strength. There is a positive correlation between how active your child is and the nutritional value of the food he needs. So, a sporty child ideally needs multiple snacks along with three major meals.

Benefits of providing the right nutrition for kid athletes are many:

  • Energy levels can improve and kids won’t get tired fast
  • Injuries and common illnesses can be avoided
  • Overall strength and performance will be improved
  • Proper weight can be maintained

What if sporty children do not receive ample nutrition?

In case of inadequate nutrition, sporty children might not be able to realize their highest potential, no matter what the sport is. This can also result in muscle breakdown, rather than the building of muscles. Children who do not get sufficient calories and other nutrients might not be that powerful, well-built, speedy or quick. Healthy weight maintenance might also become a problem for such kids. If they get insufficient calories or nutrients, it might affect a child's growth and cause other severe health-related conditions. They might become prone to fractures and wounds too. This is why knowing about sports nutrition for young athletes, is so important.

Sports nutrition for young athletes

Nutritional requirements of a sporty child can be met with a balanced mix of macro and micronutrients. Macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats supply energy for performing different activities or workouts. And micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are important for boosting immunity against common diseases. These include iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and more.

Carbohydrates: They are the main source of energy for your child’s body. Cutting down on carbohydrates can result in tiredness, laziness, less alertness, and this can affect your child’s performance as well as overall growth and development.

So, choose complex carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates to avoid unnecessary weight gain. Complex carbohydrates can fuel the body by providing energy, fibre, and other nutrients, which will help the child to stay healthy.

Avoid giving candy bars or sodas as they are devoid of nutrients. By eating these foods just before a game, athletes can get a rapid burst of energy, but later on, this can result in a "crash" or reduced energy levels.

Protein: It helps in building and repairing muscles and tissues. It also contributes towards glucose maintenance while your child is engaged in an activity or workout session for long durations.

Fats: This can help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E & K. Fats also provide energy and protect the vital organs of the body.

Fluids: It is important for sporty kids to stay hydrated throughout to avoid dehydration, and maintain energy, power, concentration and coordination. Sweating during any physical activity might result in headaches and overheating, especially during summers. Even a little dehydration can hamper the performance of the athlete i.e. physically and mentally. So, it is important to consume fluids pre and post workout or activity. Also, kids need to hydrate themselves after every 15-20 minutes during any exercise or activity.

Preparing for game day

Focus on providing healthy foods on the day of the game. One of the main reasons why parents fail to provide good nutrition on the crucial day is due to lack of planning. So, carry boxes with adequate snacks and thermos flasks filled with cool fluids and water to give to your child during the game. Avoid offering whatever is available at the venue, since such foods are usually high-fat options, like French fries or puris or chips etc. These can impact a child’s athletic performance.

A child athlete’s meal plan on this day should include a healthy mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Avoid fibrous foods like green leafy veggies and don’t experiment with food on the main day of the game. Consumption of a healthy and well-balanced meal will increase the performance of your child and prevent any sort of stomach or digestive issue. Make sure your child eats in small amounts, so that he doesn’t feel sluggish.

Before the game

Three hours before the performance or activity in question, meals should include good amounts of carbohydrates, medium quantities of protein and low amounts of fat. Digestion of fat takes quite some time, which can cause stomach distress. Even fibre-rich foods should be avoided to prevent stomach problems. Foods like oats porridge with milk, idli, dosa or aloo paratha with yoghurt are good options before an event.

If the meal is being consumed less than three hours before an activity, it should be light and easily digestible. It can include fruits, vegetables (not too fibrous) or fruit juices, khakra, whole-wheat bread toast or crackers.

During the game

During the game, fluids are an important source of nourishment for the child. Sipping on lime juice (with sugar and salt), coconut water, or even oral rehydration solutions can help replenish electrolytes lost due to sweating. This is especially important during summers and if the activity is taking place in the afternoon heat.

After the game

Once the activity gets over, a high-protein and medium-carbohydrate meal is important apart from a high-protein snack. Protein helps in repairing muscles and reducing body soreness, while carbs replenish the glycogen stores. A protein-rich snack should be consumed within half an hour after the activity. A banana milk shake, channa chaat, few cubes of paneer, a handful of peanuts, dhoklas and peanut ladoos are some examples of high-protein snacks. Parents should try and pack these in boxes and ensure that the child eats these at the venue itself. After the child comes back home, a regular meal like rice and daal or khichdi or chapathi and fish curry can be provided.

Maintenance diet

On a daily basis, it is necessary to provide your sporty child with meals and snacks that are healthy and nutritious, as these will not only meet normal growth requirements, but will also meet the additional requirements during training sessions. Also, remember to provide your child with calories which are from nutritious sources like whole-grain cereals, whole pulses, low-fat dairy products, lean proteins and good quality fats.

The diet plan for a sporty child should include a healthy breakfast of eggs and toast or idli sambar or dal paratha, along with a glass of milk. Ensure that the meal has some protein and complex carbohydrates. A fruit and a handful of dry fruits and nuts can be packed in snack boxes for your child to carry to school.

For lunch at school, a paneer roll, a cheese and veggie sandwich, or chicken or egg biryani, are good options. Provide a thermos flask filled with buttermilk or lemon juice to help meet his fluid requirements during and after sporting events at school. Carrot or cucumber sticks with a hummus dip, or peanuts or dried roasted green peas or chickpeas are good protein-rich snacks that your child can eat after a training session. Dinner can consist of chapathi, rice, vegetables, and a light dish of chicken or fish.

Hopefully, with this guide, you will now be able to take care of your sporty child’s nutritional needs efficiently. Just make sure to maintain a balance among food groups and provide ample hydration.

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