Eating For a Home Run Or a Strike Out

Eating right and playing hard go together like best friends.
The right foods can help kids have more energy when they play.  Many professional teams have nutritionists to help players perform at their best. Parents can use this fact to motivate kids who may otherwise have no interest in nutrition.  Read on to learn how young athletes can use nutrition to their advantage, just like the pros.

Covering the Bases
All kids need to eat a variety of healthy foods, but athletes who play hard might need more food to make up for the extra calories they burn. If young athletes are listening to their hunger cues they should eat what they need naturally.  Learning to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re beginning to feel full is the key.

Minerals matter
Calcium and iron are two important nutrients for kids — especially athletes. Calcium builds strong bones, which are less likely to break under stress and strain. Calcium is in milk, yogurt,  cheese,green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified products, like orange juice. If your kids won’t eat calcium-rich foods consider calcium supplements, but be aware that they are not as well absorbed as the calcium from food.

It's important to include iron-rich foods, such as meat, raisins, dried beans, fortified cereals and green vegetables. Without enough iron, kids might get tired more easily. Girls who have their periods lose some iron every month through their menstrual flow and active kids lose iron through their perspiration.

Healthy kids don't “diet”
It's usually not healthy for kids to go on diets to lose or gain weight. Coaches or teammates who tell kids to go on a diet are probably giving unsound advice. Talk this over with your doctor if necessary. Some sports emphasize large or small body sizes, but kids can play sports like gymnastics or football without going to extremes to lose or gain weight. Because kids are still growing, it's important to let them grow to the height they were meant to be.  Unhealthy dieting can jeopardize that.

A balanced diet can give an active, growing body all the protein it needs. High-protein diets or protein supplements can cause kidney problem. Skipping meals, eliminating certain food groups, or going on fasts can be harmful to kids.

Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is important for athletes. When we perspire we lose water through the skin. Sweating cools the body down but if too much water is lost this way, athletes can become  dehydrated.  Dehydration zaps energy and performance. Serious dehydration can send young athletes to the emergency room.

Drinking before, during, and after exercising is the best way to stay hydrated. Don't wait until you're thirsty. Water is the best choice. Fruit juice mixed with water is another refreshing drink. But avoid sodas, especially caffeinated ones.

Kids may need a sports drink or fruit juice diluted 50:50 with water if they are exercising for more than 90 minutes or perspiring a lot.

Eating before a game
Players should have a meal 2  to 4 hours before practice or game time. If you have a full stomach, your body will need to spend energy digesting food, leaving less for you to use in your game or practice. The best pre-game meal includes carbohydrates and protein for energy, but is low in fat, which can slow digestion.  For long practices or all day events bring a snack:  half a sandwich, fresh or dried fruit, a small handful of nuts, trail mix or an energy bar.