Moms' Nutrition Hotline: Sports Kids Score with Good Nutrition

By Phil LeClair

As a sports dad and coach, I know how much time (and money!) is invested by parents for their kids to play youth sports. A just as important part of getting them ready to play is good nutrition habits before, during and after games and practices. Your kids are pint-sized athletes and need to eat like ones to be at their best mentally and physically.

Allow me to provide you with a few pointers:

Pre-Game—Never let your kids hit the ice, field or gym on an empty stomach. With most weekend game and practice times happening in the morning, it is hard enough just to roll kids out of bed let alone sit them down for breakfast. But you definitely do not want them trying to be active without fuel in the tank. Just remember: Breakfast literally means to "break" the "fast" and replenish energy stores. The best strategy is to get them in the car and hand he or she something quick and healthy to eat en route. Good examples include: A piece of fruit with a cheese stick, whole-grain bagel with natural peanut butter or naturally-sweetened yogurt (which is more portable these days as it is available in squeezable tubes and drinkable smoothies). Energy bars are a super-portable and convenient option. With seemingly hundreds of brands to choose from, look for those with "natural ingredients" on the label, contain around 200 calories, 10-15 grams of protein, and of course, get flavors that your child likes. For kids up to six, a whole bar may be too filling, so give them a half-bar. They can eat the other half after the game or practice.

During Game—If your young all-star had a proper snack or meal prior to game time or practice, they need nothing more than to stay hydrated with water. Sports drinks are not necessary at this level of play—and may in fact be detrimental. Their high concentration of sugars on a small stomach can bog down a young player and cause stomach aches. If your child is adamant about having a sports drink, dilute it by pouring half-water, half-sports drink in their water bottle. Doing this (or ideally with just enough sports drink to provide some flavor) is actually not a bad idea because it encourages them to drink more, keeping them well-hydrated.

Post-Game—This is the time to let them have some sports drink. The key word is SOME! When it comes to sugar, sports drinks are not much more than a non-carbonated version of soda. Check out the label. Total sugars will usually be listed around 20 grams. But this is only for one serving. Most sports drink nutrition labels state them as containing 2.5 servings. So if your child drinks the whole bottle it is actually in the neighborhood of 50 grams or 10 teaspoons of sugar! Juice boxes are a better alternative. That is…the ones with 100% juice and no sugar added. Food-wise, if you are not going to be getting to a meal within an hour, an energy bar or small snack like those suggested for pre-game work great.

Be Prepared—Do not let yourself be at the mercy of the concession stand, vending machines or surrounding fast food joints. It only takes a few extra minutes to throw together some healthy snacks and beverages. Pack for the duration of time that you are going to be on the road and at the rink, gym or playing field. Always add a couple of extra items as it is not uncommon for games, meets or tournaments to be running behind schedule. When you do eat out, choose sit-down restaurants which typically offer healthy choices. If you need a fast-food option, a sandwich shop or deli helps minimize exposure to a menu that includes fried, fat-laden and non-nourishing foods.

Be a Nutrition Role Model—Healthy food choices are a hard-sell to kids if their parents are sitting in the stands with a donut, soda or mystery meat hot dog from the concession stand. Make good nutrition a team effort and the whole family will score!

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