While swimming lessons, practice runs and a new pair of shoes are great ways to help young athletes prepare for a race, perhaps one of the best ways we can help our children get ready for any big athletic event is through nutrition and hydration. As adults, we hear the words “exercise nutrition” and immediately things that come to mind include carb-loading, supplements, electrolyte replacements- well let me stop you right there. For our youngsters, a healthy, well-balanced meal is really all that is needed to ensure they have all the nutrients needed to perform well, but here a few quick tips to help you along.
- Be sure to incorporate foods rich in calcium (low-fat dairy, broccoli, green leafy vegetables) and iron (lean meat, eggs, fortified whole grain cereals). Calcium helps with bone strength, while iron allows for oxygen to be carried throughout the body.
- Include protein pre and post nutrition to help build and repair muscle. Generally, all children consume plenty of protein in a day, so no need to add extra- in fact, overconsumption can lead to dehydration and decreased calcium levels.
- Carbohydrates will serve as your child’s primary fuel source, be sure to choose healthy carbs, such as whole grain products and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Knowing when to consume meals can be just as important as what is being consumed. A meal containing carbs and proteins should be eaten three hours prior to an event. Be sure to avoid high fat and high fiber foods during this meal as those take a longer time to digest. Have your child consume quick digesting carbs to be sure they have plenty of energy to start the race one hour prior to an event.
- I can’t stress the importance of hydration enough! Even mild dehydration can have effects on performance.
- Don’t rely on your child to tell you they are thirsty before stopping for a fluid break. Children should consume water every 15 to 20 minutes during activity.
- Let water be your friend! Water is the most healthy, and likely adequate way for your child to rehydrate. Sports drinks containing electrolytes are only necessary for children participating in events lasting longer than 60 minutes.
- Avoid high sugar beverages and all beverages containing caffeine, not only will these drinks not help your young athlete, but they may cause other negative side effects.
Bottom line… never leave home without the water bottle and don’t over think that pre-event meal too much. Get in the habit of serving well-balanced meals to your children on a daily basis and they should be well prepared for their next event.