Get your active kids to eat like athletes

By: Rheanna Kish and Cara Rosenbloom, RD

©Thinkstock Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©Thinkstock


Get your active kids to eat like athletes

By: Rheanna Kish and Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Kids and sports
Nearly every child who plays a sport dreams of stepping up onto the podium to receive an Olympic medal, the thunderous applause of a packed stadium echoing in her ears. The reality is that there are many aspects to sports success, and whether your child is playing for fun or practising to one day compete against the world's best, good nutrition is essential.  

Paul Cloutier, a coach with the Whitby Iroquois Soccer Club in Whitby, Ont., trains an under-15 competitive girls' team. He hands out nutrition tip newsletters at practices, organizes a session with a nutritionist for both team members and parents, and creates sample menus full of healthy food choices. His message is loud and clear: A poor diet and top performance simply don't go hand in hand.

Whether you are a coach or a parent cheering your kid on from the sidelines, here are some nutrition tips you can incorporate into your budding Olympian's routine.

Before the game
• Give your child a meal two to four hours before starting any activity, or have him eat a snack one to two hours before.

• Serve foods rich in complex carbohydrates, which are easily digested and won't sit heavily in the stomach. Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source, and they provide fuel to his muscles and brain. Include a small amount of protein and fat to help your child stay full for a longer period. Good choices include breakfast cereal with milk; pasta with tomato sauce; crackers and cheese; fruit and yogurt; pita and hummus; or whole grain toast with peanut butter.  

• Avoid large amounts of fatty food (such as french fries and doughnuts) or high-protein foods (such as hamburgers and steak). They take a long time to digest and may cause stomachaches during activity.

• Encourage your child to drink ½ to 1 cup (125 to 250 mL) of water one to two hours before exercise, and another ½ to 1 cup about 10 to 15 minutes before exercise.

• Stay clear of soft drinks, juice and fruit drinks right before activity. The high sugar content can cause stomach cramps and nausea during strenuous exercise.

• Avoid caffeinated beverages, such as cola, or energy drinks before activity.

During the game
Staying hydrated is key. Children are unable to regulate their body temperatures as well as adults, and sometimes they need to be reminded to drink. Water is the best thirst quencher, but many kids will drink more if the water is flavoured. If that is the case, offer sips of a sports drink or unsweetened, diluted juice (at a one-to-one ratio of water to juice).

• If exercise lasts longer than an hour, your child will need to replenish her carbohydrates during the activity. Have her nibble on a sports bar, take sips of a sports drink or eat pieces of orange or apple to fuel a longer workout.

Snacks on the run
Today's busy schedules often mean there is no time for a proper meal before a game or practice. Instead of reaching for microwave pizzas, fried foods or chocolate bars for a quick fix, try these healthy options.
• banana
• whole grain bagel with nut butter
• hard-cooked egg
• yogurt (or yogurt drink)
• trail mix
• whole grain cereal

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover the best foods to feed your kids after the game on page 2

After the game
• Your child should eat as soon as possible after the game – the time of day will dictate whether it is a meal or a snack – combining protein and carbohydrates.

• Loading up on carbs will help replenish energy, and eating protein will help muscles recover from the game and repair tissue.

• Good lunch and dinner options include pasta with meat sauce; a turkey and cheese sandwich with sliced vegetables; chili with a whole grain bun; or chicken breast, rice and vegetables. With any of these choices, also include a side salad, fruit and a healthy beverage such as milk or water.

• After intense activities, have your child drink two to three cups (500 to 750 mL) of water. (Unfortunately, there is not a more specific guideline because rehydration is dependent on a child’s age, weight, activity level and sweat loss.) Kids tend to have a poor sense of thirst, so remind them to drink often.

• In some cases, water alone may not be enough. Studies have shown that sports drinks may be better than water for postgame hydration. Often, when given only plain water, children do not drink enough to match their sweat loss. Also, recent research conducted on child athletes has shown that sports drinks may be more beneficial to performance than an equal volume of plain water. Choose noncarbonated sports drinks that contain 13 to 18 g of carbohydrates, and at least 100 mg of sodium per 1 cup (250 mL).

• Sports drinks are best for replenishment after intense activity that lasts a long time, or start-and-stop sports, such as soccer and basketball. Because they do contain calories from sugar, they are not necessary for low-impact activities that don’t cause perspiration – including playing in the park or going for a walk. Water is a better choice in those situations.

• Avoid energy drinks, because they are loaded with sugar and caffeine.

All-day competitions and tournaments
• Don’t rely on concession stand snacks to satisfy your child’s hunger. Common snack bar options (chips, fries, nachos, chocolate bars) are high in fat, sugar and salt. Instead, pack a minicooler with your own snacks.

• Keep your child’s energy levels up with healthy snacks that are high in complex carbohydrates. While sugary foods (candy, soda) do contain carbohydrates (which are simple, rather than complex), these sweet foods may cause fluctuations in blood sugar and waste energy that would otherwise be used during the game.

Tip: Food provides your body with the fuel required to perform well in sports. Inadequate food intake can cause muscle cramping, light-headedness, nausea and fatigue – and could make the difference between first place and runner-up.
Rheanna Kish is a food specialist with The Canadian Living Test Kitchen and Cara Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian.

Signs your child may be overdoing It
Having your child participate in extracurricular activities can be beneficial and enriching in so many ways. But some experts warn that a packed itinerary may overwhelm kids and cause stress and anxiety. Unsure if your child is overscheduled or spending too much time on sports? Here are some signs to watch out for:

• Changes in sleeping patterns; insomnia
• Physical illness
• A growing dislike for the activity itself
• Poor grades; decreased motivation to study during the school year
• Irritable moods; grouchiness

If you are feeling frazzled by your child’s schedule, chances are he or she is probably feeling burned out as well. Remember, kids need downtime, too.
– Sarah Jane Silva

Here are some great Tested Till Perfect recipes to get your kids energized:
Sweet-and-Sour Chicken Kabobs
Yogurt Berry Ice Pops

This story was originally titled "Eat Like An Olympian" in the July 2009 issue.

Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

Page 2 of 2

Share X

Get your active kids to eat like athletes