Fueling children and teens becomes even more complicated when exercise is involved! But, choosing the right foods at the right times can help assure kids are performing their best when engaging in physical activity. It may take some experimentation, but with time and practice you’ll be able to figure out what fuels your child best for game day. Here are some things to remember:
1) Most teens and children who eat a healthy and balanced diet will obtain the nutrients they need to fuel their sports, especially if they’re exercising for about an hour or less. However, for those in endurance sports, or on long competition days, additional nutrients might be needed.
2) Kids should go into exercise or competition feeling satisfied. Having a snack at least 1-2 hours before physical activity will allow for some digestion to happen, but still leave “fuel” to be readily available for their muscles to work their best.
3) Aim for pre-exercise snacks to have a carbohydrate (which provides quick energy for working muscles) and a protein (to keep kids feeling full for longer). Try to avoid very high fat or greasy foods, as they take longer to digest and can cause a stomachache. Sugary snacks should also be avoided, as the body processes these very quickly. While this might result in an initial burst of energy, blood sugar will crash soon after, leaving kids fatigued and not able to perform at their best.
4) Post-exercise, if needed, a snack should also contain carbohydrates (to refuel the muscles with energy) and protein (for muscle growth and repair).
5) Examples of some snacks containing both carbohydrates and protein are:
-Whole grain crackers with cheese
-An apple with peanut butter
-Whole wheat pretzels with hummus
-Trail mix made with whole grain cereal, dried fruit (with no sugar or other additives) and nuts
-Slice of whole grain toast with mashed avocado
-Smoothie made with yogurt and fruit
-½ cup oatmeal topped with chopped nuts
Amanda Buthmann MS, RD is a pediatric and family nutritionist at Lara Metz Nutrition in NYC. For more information contact her at Amanda@larametznutrition.com, or visit www.larametznutrition.com