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Your child eats breakfast in the back seat of the car on the way to her 7:00 a.m. practice. You suspect she skips lunch at school to get in some extra time shooting baskets. She rushes through dinner to make it to the basketball game on time. Parents of sports enthusiasts need a nutrition game plan for their children.
Not only must a young athlete meet his or her body's high demands of nutrients for growth, she must also recognize the extra requirements of energy (calories) and fluids that a training program imposes. Three meals a day won't do it. She'll also need snacks.
The Food Guide
Appetite is the best guide to amounts, but six- to twelve-year-old children still look to parents for guidance on what and when to eat. Every day, choose at least the minimum number of servings in each food group in the Food Guide.
Select more servings from these two groups: grain products, and vegetables and fruit. Especially important are starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn, fruit, and lots of bread, pasta, rice, and cereals.
Carbohydrate and fat intake
These foods provide carbohydrates, the main source of energy for all exercise. Carbohydrates in the form of blood glucose and muscle glycogen offer the body's primary sources of fuel during intense training. Once glycogen stores are depleted, athletes suffer fatigue.
The National Institute of Nutrition recommends a diet providing about 60 per cent of total energy intake from carbohydrates for children participating in high-intensity training for long periods of time.
Some adults load up on carbohydrates for high-demand athletic events such as marathons. This strict regime, which involves consuming a very high-carbohydrate diet and the tapering off of activity for two or three days before competition, may be harmful to children.
No need to diet
There is room in the athletic child's diet for higher-fat foods such as peanut butter, cheese, and ice cream. High-fat foods provide a concentrated source of calories for the child on the run.
If your child is involved in activities such as diving, dancing, gymnastics, or figure skating, she may balk at eating even the minimum requirements of the Food Guide. Weight control may be part of training for the Olympics, but it's not required if your child participates in sports simply because he enjoys them.
If your child's coach suggests that your daughter or son go on a diet, it's time to change clubs. Your child has the wrong coach, not the wrong body size or shape. Limiting a growing child's food can jeopardize her health by delaying maturation and stunting growth. Possibly more serious, it can lead to an eating disorder.
Page 1 of 2 -- Find out how you can keep your little one hydrated during those hot summer days on page 2
Drinking several glasses of water each day should be part of every person's healthy diet. Additional water, however, is necessary during times of intense training or competition. The active child needs to drink extra fluids to regulate his body temperature.
Active muscles generate heat, and fluids help remove that heat. Without adequate fluid, your child may become dehydrated, which causes fatigue and increases the risk of cramps and heat exhaustion.
To prevent dehydration, your child should drink water before, during, and after exercise. You or your child's coach may need to insist he drink. Thirst may not be an adequate indicator of the body's need for water, especially during exercise, which blunts one's thirst.
Water and exercise
Exercising in the heat poses unique problems for the child athlete. Because children sweat less than adolescents and adults, they have a greater heat gain in hot weather. When it's hot, children should drink every 10 to 15 minutes, approximately 30 mL (1 oz.) for every 15 kg (33 lb.), and pour water over themselves to cool down.
Fill your child's water bottle with plain water. Avoid iced tea and colas. The caffeine in these drinks acts as a diuretic and may increase urine output and fluid loss. Since children sweat so little, they don't lose as much sodium, potassium, and other minerals while exercising.
Unless it's extremely hot and humid or the exercise is extremely strenuous, sport drinks are not likely to benefit children, but they won't harm your child.
Excerpted from Raising Great Kids: Ages 6 to 12 by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1999 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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