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Top Nutrition Tips for Kids Who Participate in Sports

written by: Roohi Khan • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 5/18/2011

Children need just the right amount of nutrients from a good mix of foods to grow up to be healthy adults. The nutrient requirements and the importance of eating a healthy balanced diet go up if your child is an active participant in sports activities.

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    The need for the right amount of nutrients is especially higher in adolescence where even kids not involved in sports need the right mix of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Here are some tips for the right kind of sports nutrition for kids.

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    Calories

    Kids involved in active sports require a higher amount of calories than their less active counterpart to support their growth as well their performance. The required calorie intake can range anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 calories per day. Adequate intake of calories is also required to maintain a normal weight and a proper balance of proteins in the body.

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    Proteins

    For building, maintaining and repairing muscle tissues, proteins are necessary. The protein requirement can range from 1.0 to 1.5 gram/kg of body weight, depending on the intensity of the sports activity. However, excessive intake of this nutrient can actually cause dehydration, calcium loss and kidney problems. Some good sources of proteins include fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, milk and soy.

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    Fluids

    Dehydration can be quite harmful for your child. It can cause fatigue while exercising, and it can lead to more serious heat-related illnesses. Since kids absorb heat more rapidly than adults, they are more prone to heat stress and the risks involved with it.

    Children should compensate for the loss of fluids during and after a workout session by drinking adequate amounts of fluids. Generally, the best way to decide how much fluid is needed is to measure the child's weight before a session and then encourage them to drink 16 to 24 ounces of liquid for every pound lost.

    If the sports activity lasts for less than an hour, then water is enough for hydration. However, while participating in longer sports activities, kids lose electrolytes, and this is where a sports beverage with 6 to 8 percent carbohydrate will be required.

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    Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates are considered to be the best nutrient for providing the necessary energy for sports activities. You should, therefore, make sure that your teenager is getting around 55 percent of the daily calories from carbohydrates. The daily recommendations can range from 3 to 8 grams carbs/kg (carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight) for training, depending on its intensity. Your child may need 8 to 9 grams carbs/kg 24-48 hours before an event and 1.7 grams carb/kg within 2 to 3 hours after a sports event.

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    Fats

    Adolescents should be encouraged to consume healthy fats such as vegetable oils and reduce the amount of saturated and trans fat, which is often found in processed and fried fast foods. Since fatty foods tend to slow down digestion, these are best avoided a few hours before and after a training or workout session.

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    Minerals and Vitamins

    The most important minerals for kids participating in sports are iron and calcium. Iron carries oxygen to the muscles, and calcium is required for building strong bones and preventing stress fractures. Good sources of iron include lean red meats, iron-fortified cereals and green leafy vegetables. Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese can help your child get enough calcium.

    Besides these two minerals, consuming enough fruits and vegetables ensures that your child gets ample amounts of other essential minerals and vitamins.

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    A Few More Tips

    The right sports nutrition for kids can easily be provided with a healthy and balanced diet, taking into the account the child's requirements as given above.

    Children, whether involved in sports or not, should never be encouraged to go on diets. Your child is still growing and dieting can interfere with his or her normal growth in height and weight.

    Pay special attention to the food eaten on game days. A meal taken around three hours before the game should be high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat and fibers.

    Within 30 minutes of the end of the game, give them carbohydrates in the form of fruits, pretzels, or sports beverages.

    Make sure that the first meal after the game consists of a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins so that the child's body is able to rebuild and repair muscle tissues and replenish lost stores of energy and fluids.

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    References

    Sports Research Intelligence Sportive: Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes

    http://www.sirc.ca/newsletters/may10/documents/youngathletes.pdf

    The Nemours Foundation: A Guide to Eating for Sports

    http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/sports/eatnrun.html#