Energize Young Athletes
Got a young athlete in the house?
I used to.
Four. Of various skills and abilities…and sports. You could say I had multi sport athletes.
A volleyball player, two swimmers and a rower. One swimmer was a club team participant, swimming 2 hours each night, 5-6 nights each week. She went on to swim in college.
My other swimmer was like her older sibling volleyball player: They both stopped playing after high school.
The rower is at the high school level, which means for six days during the week he is practicing for 3 hours.
He is still growing, so I give special consideration to his athlete meal plan, particularly his nutrition needs for growth, and the calorie torch related to his sport.
How Do I Give My Child More Energy?
It’s important to make sure your young athlete is getting good food with an abundance of nutrients, and enough of them. In other words, meals and snacks containing the nutrients that fuel his performance and energize his developing body.
5 Ways to Fuel and Energize Your Young Athlete
1. Stock Your Kitchen with Quality Foods
For the athlete diet, you want to choose whole foods in their natural state, such as low fat dairy products, lean meats and other protein sources, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. These are the foods that should be a part of every child athlete diet.
2. Use an Athlete Meal Plan
Make sure your child gets three nutritious meals and no skipping!
A meal should include most food groups and at a minimum, at least three to four of the following food groups: a protein source, dairy, fruit, vegetable, healthy fats and/or a whole grain food source.
Offering protein with meals ensures amino acids are available to the young athlete’s body whenever it’s needed for muscle repair, strengthening and building.
Carbs from fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains provide your athlete’s exercising muscles with fuel to keep going.
3. Two Snacks Each Day with a Protein Source
You may wonder how much protein a child athlete needs. I’m betting it’s not as much as you think. Most young athletes get plenty of protein without giving it much thought.
Meats, beans and bean dips, nuts and nut butters, cheeses, yogurt, milk or milk substitutes, and protein-rich whole grains such as quinoa are great sources of protein for the young athlete.
Unsweetened cereal and milk; yogurt, fresh fruit and nuts; whole-wheat toast and peanut butter are all examples of a healthy protein-rich snack for your school-age athlete.
Protein in the snack helps your athlete manage his appetite so they don’t get too hungry between meals.
4. Schedule the Athlete Meal Plan
Kids perform best in all aspects of life when they eat regularly. Try to provide meals and snacks every 3-4 hours, and avoid sending your athlete to practice on an empty stomach.
Regular meals and snacks lend a predictability to the day and let your child or teen athlete regulate his eating. The opposite? Getting too hungry and overeating, or not choosing the best food options.
5. Ditch the Worry about Counting Calories
Instead, let your athlete’s appetite lead the way. Take care not to fall into the trap of running through the drive-thru, hitting the convenience mart or snacking on too many processed foods.
If so, your athlete may overshoot the balance of energy in versus energy out.
With an athlete meal plan, it’s easy to assure your child gets enough nutrition to cover all his needs.
The benefits of making sure your child has enough energy is worth it: a healthy, growing, energized athlete who is ready for performance anywhere — on the court or in the pool.
How do you make sure your athlete is getting enough nutrition?
Need More Resources on Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes?
Or check out my book, Eat Like a Champion!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: December 19, 2018
Updated on: March 4, 2019