kids playing soccer
Motherhood, Nutrition

Fueling Your Young Athlete

As a busy parent of three, I’m finding myself driving from the track to the cheer gym to the baseball field, sometimes all in one evening! My kids are athletes and this is a busy time of year when multiple sports converge. It’s always important for me to make sure they eat healthy but it’s even more critical when they are exercising as much as they are for their sports.

What to Feed Them

Young athletes need to make sure they are eating enough to support their activity. Protein is most important, followed by carbs, and fats. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure each meal includes a protein, carb, fat, and a fruit or vegetable. If you can squeeze in dairy, even better. Here are some examples of how to make that work:

Breakfast – toast with butter, topped with mashed avocado, and an egg with everything-but-the-bagel seasoning on top. Serve with a handful of berries and some chocolate milk.

Lunch – tuna salad sandwich or wrap with crackers. Serve with trail mix, a cheese stick, and a clementine.

Dinner – beef stir fry over noodles or rice

Snack – cottage cheese with preserves on top or pistachios or a banana/chocolate smoothie with protein powder

When to Feed Them

It’s best to feed them whenever you can but try not to let them go too long in between meals. My 7th grader’s lunch period is 10:30 a.m.! She’s barely hungry after eating breakfast. And that lunch needs to last her through track practice and/or a meet, as well as possibly cheer practice on some nights. It’s nearly impossible to figure out what to feed her let alone when she can sneak those calories in.

Typically, dinner is the biggest meal of the day for my 7th grader. For my 3rd grader, that meal is lunch. Whatever works best for your child. The important thing is they are eating enough calories each day to fuel their fitness and recover well.

If they have a competition or game, a lighter meal is best beforehand, saving the larger meal for afterward. For endurance sports, make sure you provide a carb-heavy meal prior to the activity for energy. Just make sure it’s not too heavy. A banana or bagel with peanut butter works really well. It’s also important to make sure they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner to ensure they’re getting the calories they need to support their sport and their growing bodies.

How to Feed Them

It’s hard enough getting dinner on the table each night but when you have the added complication of sports and activities, it’s even more of a challenge. Here are some things we’ve tried:

  1. Pack a variety of healthy snacks. They can eat them whenever and wherever possible. Think nuts, fruit strips, fruit pouches, bananas, protein bars, trail mix, goldfish crackers, etc. It’s not the best but it’s something and something is better than nothing.
  2. Meal prep. I am the queen of this. In fact, last night, I pulled together a quick dinner of steamed sweet potatoes (in the microwave) topped with seasoned ground turkey and spinach with some salsa. While I was doing and eating that, I made whole wheat pasta with shrimp and grape tomatoes tossed with pesto sauce for the next night. I packed it all into containers and let the family know it was there. This way, they had dinner even in the midst of everyone running all over. Crockpot meals are good for this, too. Make something they can serve themselves whenever they can eat. Done.
  3. When all else fails, build in time to stop and get healthy food while driving around. Sandwiches and hearty salads are favorites with my kids. they can eat them in the car and they don’t sit too heavy in their stomach, if they still need to practice or play.

A final note–make sure they are hydrated throughout the day. My kids always have their water bottles but they also drink milk, sparkling water, juice, and the occasional sports drink.

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