Nutrition Tips for Your Young Athletes

Encouraging kids to eat healthy is important, but proper nutrition is even more essential for young athletes.

Athletes should build balanced plates," says Katie Jeffrey, MS, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian, in Stonington, Connecticut. "About 50 to 60 percent of their plate should be composed of carbohydrates such as whole-wheat pasta, bread, quinoa, brown rice or a sweet or baked potato. Twenty-five to 30 percent of the plate should be non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, greens, cabbage, broccoli and carrots. The remaining 15 to 20 percent should be filled with lean protein such as chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds or lean cuts of red meat or pork."

More: Why Good Nutrition Is Key for Children

Pre-Game Meals

Before any sporting event, kids should consume a well-balanced meal that includes lean protein and nutrient-rich carbohydrates. This will keep them full, give them energy, and help them perform their best.

Similar to the idea of runners carbo-loading the night before a race, it's a good idea for young athletes to eat pasta the night before a game or match. According to Jeffrey, carbohydrate-rich meals are actually important for kids all the time since carbs are the main energy source for the muscles and the brain.

More: Your Guide to Sports Parenting

Pre-Practice Lunch

In some cases, youngsters may have practice or a game immediately following school, and lunchtime may be the last opportunity for kids to consume a pre-practice meal.

Jeffrey recommends packing a lunch with nutrient-rich carbs, protein and a small amount of heart-healthy fats.

Here are some ideas for healthy, nutritious lunches that will keep your kids full, and fuel them through their after-school event.

  • Bean burrito with chicken, avocado, low-fat cheese or nonfat Greek yogurt, lettuce and tomatoes. You can also include an apple or other fruit, carrot sticks and corn tortilla chips.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread with milk or nonfat yogurt, fruit (i.e. grapes, cherries, plums, peaches or pears) and celery sticks.
  • Turkey wrap with hummus, spinach, tomatoes or other veggies, nonfat milk or yogurt, fruit and whole- grain pretzels.

Kids should aim to eat 3 to 4 hours prior to their practice or game to allow the body enough time to digest and store nutrients.

More: Pack the Perfect School Lunch

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