Make sure kids are adequately fueled for sports

hydrating boyIf your kids play sports and you wonder what they should eat and drink to boost their performance, start with everyday good nutrition, according to Dr. Charles Parmele of Annapolis Pediatrics.

“Children should almost always eat foods with high nutritional value,” he says, including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, healthy fats and whole grains.

Ann Heiser Buzzelli, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, agrees.

“All the things the body needs for practice should happen in the morning and throughout the day,” she says.

Be careful not to overfeed children just because they are playing a sport, Parmele stresses.

“The vast majority of us tend to overestimate how many calories a child spends playing sports,” he explains. A 100-pound child burns 335 calories playing soccer for 60 minutes, but most don't play the entire game, he says.

Parmele and Heiser Buzzelli have a host of tips to steer parents in the right direction when it comes to keeping kids fueled for sports.

Plan ahead

Make sure your pantry and fridge are stocked with healthy choices that your kids want to eat, Heiser Buzzelli says. This way, you have what you need to pack snacks for between school and sports or for an all-day sporting event.

“They need to have items ready that they can pack and eat when they are on the field or deck,” she says. “You won't always be with them, so they need things they will consume” without being reminded.

On the days leading up to a sporting event, Parmele also recommends having kids eat carbohydrates — pasta, beans, potatoes, starchy vegetables and wild rice. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for muscles and give the body a healthy source of energy, he explains.

What to pack

For a pre-game or before-practice snack, Parmele and Heiser Buzzelli recommend a wholesome combination of complex carbohydrates, proteins and fruits. Good examples include half of a nut butter sandwich on wholegrain bread, almonds, an apple, or maybe wholegrain crackers, a hard-boiled egg or some string cheese.

During an event, Parmele recommends simple sugars for energy such as oranges, bananas, raisins, grapes, peaches and melons. After a practice or game, complex carbohydrates and protein help muscles recover, repair and restore energy supplies. So pack a bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter, a piece of fruit, maybe some trail mix and a box of chocolate milk.

Football kid WWhat to avoid

By planning ahead, parents don't have to hit up the vending machines, concession stand or stop for fast food.

“Hotdogs, the standby favorite at concessions, is not the best choice before a race or game,” Heiser Buzzelli says.

Parmele advises avoiding carbonated drinks, refined carbohydrates, sugars, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods.

“A can of soda and an individual pack of cookies, which many kids get after a game, yield 464 calories and don't give the child any useful nutrition,” Parmele says. “As parents, it is our job to love them too much to let them eat poorly.”

Hydrate properly

The most important “food” is water, according to Parmele. By the time an athlete is thirsty, he or she is already somewhat dehydrated.

Heiser Buzzelli says to focus on hydrating every day, not just on a sports day. And Parmele adds that kids should drink water at every break in practice and every time they are off the field during a game.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends water over any other drinks while participating in sports. Sports drinks may be beneficial after an hour of vigorous activity but check the ingredients closely and watch the serving size, Heiser Buzzelli says. Parmele stresses that sports drinks have a marginal benefit for adult athletes under extreme physical exertion. If serving them to children, dilute them by at least half, he says.

“Give kids more fruits and vegetables instead of looking for performance products,” Heiser Buzzelli adds.

By Betsy Stein

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