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In the United States, over 45 million youth play sports, be it recreational or competitive. Sports are an amazing tool used to teach children the benefits of prioritizing health. However, many parents struggle to know how to fuel their kids for the sports they are competing in. What is the energy demand of my child? What types of food/snack are best? How do I make the snacks fit my busy schedule and budget?
A recent study done by the California State University, College of Health and Human Services surveyed parents of adolescents to find out what factors contributed to the snacks they were picking for their children around games and practices. They found that convenience was the number one factor with a child’s preference, cost, and health filing thereafter.
Most parents know that snacking is paramount for the athlete (especially those at a competitive level because they are burning a large amount of calories over a short period of time. Fuel (food) is needed to keep muscles firing and performing at top notch. However, many parents are not educated on what types of food to eat, much less when is the most beneficial time to eat said food.
Studies suggest eating a meal or snack high in carbohydrates 1-3 hours prior to exercise or sport. This includes things like fruit, Greek yogurt with granola, oats, whole grain or split grain toast with nut butter and much more. Avoid pre-packaged, highly processed snacks and sugary beverages like Gatorade and soda and stick to water instead.
It is also important to consume something high in protein within 3 hours of completing their sport/practice/training in order to build back up the fatigued muscles. A great way to have something like this quick on hand is to whip up a batch of delicious energy bites (see recipe at bottom). Your athlete should consume 1-2 post game or practice and later a full meal rich in complex carbohydrates and lean protein (i.e. brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, ground turkey, chicken breast etc.).
As we know, children can be incredibly picky and it’s often hard to get them to eat healthy items. Since child preference heavily weighs in on what we feed our kids, we need to find what works for them while not compromising on their health; this is where education comes into play. Emphasize food as fuel to your child explaining that eating better options will help them be faster, less tired, and more competitive. Teach them why proper nutrients are important for their growing and developing bodies. Be a good example in the way that you eat and your kids will be more likely to follow suit. Lastly, get your kids involved in finding kid friendly healthy recipes that they are excited about and allow them to help prep to keep your busy schedule moving.
Your child’s body demands good nutrients in order to compete at a desirable level. For this reason, focus on working together to pick healthy carbohydrates for pre-game and practice and lean proteins for after that they will be excited about. Never underestimate the power of leading by example; the more you implement prioritizing good health and nutrition practices in your life the more they will too.
Energy Bite Recipe:
1 ½ cups Old Fashioned Oats
½ cup Raw Almond or Peanut Butter
½ cup Flax Seed, ground
½ cup Raw Honey
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tbsp Chia Seeds
Mix ingredients together in a large bowl until combined. Roll into 1 inch balls. Enjoy immediately, or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to a week.