Sport Nutrition for Parents of Young Athletes

Sport participation poses a double challenge to feeding your kids well:

  • They require more food, and arguably more nutritious food than the average child.
  • They are rarely at home for meals.

Here are some tips on how to help your child eat adequate foods and the most nutritious food:

  • Instill good eating habits at a young age by being a good role model for your child.
  • Be organized and shop regularly so there are always healthy foods available.
  • If your child is too tired to eat, don’t panic. Encourage small, frequent snacks and fluids such as 1% chocolate milk and 100% fruit juice instead of water.
  • Offer chicken, lean red meat or fish at both lunch and dinner for dietary iron - chili, tacos, fajitas, casseroles, tomato meat sauce, BBQ fish or chicken and tuna salad are just a few ideas.
  • Ensure your child consumes 3-4 servings of low fat dairy or fortified soy products (1 serving = 1 cup milk or ¾ cup yogurt)
  • Provide adequate carbohydrate foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, breads and cereals. Aim for 3 out of the 4 food groups at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Encourage healthy eating for performance, not body image. Help your child develop a healthy attitude towards food. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings and listen to them. Here are some good ideas developed by parents of athletes who are rarely home for meals:

  • Invest in sturdy equipment that enables portability of a wide variety of food.  This includes knapsacks, mini-coolers, thermos flasks, freezer-packs, plastic food and beverage containers, small can openers, utensils, etc.
  • Pack enough food for morning snacks, lunch, and after-school snacks.
  • Deconstruct the meal your child is missing and be creative about ways to get the missing food into them.  Some examples are:
    o Breakfast on the way to morning practices can be a tub of fruit yogurt and a baggie of breakfast cereal eaten by hand.  This is not likely to cause any stomach upsets during practice.  What doesn’t get eaten is useful for energy recovery after practice.
    o Prepare your regular supper and let your child eat half before an evening practice/competition and half after it.  The kinds of foods that are well tolerated before practice are potatoes, pasta, bread, raw vegetables and dip, salad, and milk.
  • Rely on one-pot meals that can be eaten by anyone at any time.  Examples include pasta salads or hot pasta/meat/vegetable mixes than can be easily warmed-up in the microwave; ‘make your own’ sub sandwich or wrap; chili and stews, etc. 
  • Always have cut-up vegetables in the fridge and fruit on the counter. 
  • Useful snack replacements for meal items include: granola bars, nuts, popcorn, fruit yogurt, dried fruit and fruit bars, cheese strings or slices, chocolate milk, fruit and vegetable juices, bagels, low-fat crackers, bread sticks, baby carrots, bags of breakfast cereal, etc. 
  • For the more adventuresome, your child can snack on a cold baked potato or drained canned fruit in a zip-lock bag.
  • Always have a case each of fruit bars and juice boxes in the car.
  • Make your own sport drink:       
    500 mljuice or fruit beverage of choice
    500 ml water
    ¼ tsp salt

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