As schools shut down for summer, many kids choose to spend those extra hours of sunlight being physically active. Whether it’s climbing around at the local park or playing an organized sport, what kids eat and drink can impact these active experiences.
Fueling physical activity for kids can range from simple to complex depending on a variety of factors; the level and duration of activity as well as the weather. Proper hydration is a good place to start. Then for kids who are more competitively involved in sports, take a look at meals and snacks leading up to big games as well as practices.
Whatever your needs are, keep reading to learn more about the ideal sports nutrition for kids—from proper hydration to game-day fuel.
Hydration for Kids
Marketing may have you thinking otherwise, but the truth is most kids do not need sports drinks. Beverages like Gatorade were designed for elite athletes to replenish energy and electrolytes when they were intensely playing sports for long periods of time. It’s rare for kids playing youth sports, especially at younger ages, to reach the level of intensity that would warrant consuming a sports drink.
It’s not to say kids aren’t sweating and, in turn, losing electrolytes while being physically active, but rather that what’s lost can be easily restored with plain water and thoughtful snacks—even when it’s hot outside. Additionally, traditional sports drinks contain a decent amount of sugar, which is needed in intense exercise, but not necessarily in pee wee soccer. So your best bet for practices and game day? Fill up that water bottle!
If your child doesn’t like the taste of plain water, try flavoring it with lemon or another fruit. You may also consider an electrolyte supplement like Nuun or LMNT. While these are also designed for exercise, they can be diluted since you make them yourself and offer some flavor without all the sugar found in traditional sports drinks.
Kids Nutrition For Sports Practice and Everyday Activity
When it comes to sports practice days or days simply spent playing outside, focus on providing a well-rounded diet and maybe some extra water. Being consistently well-nourished and well-hydrated helps kids perform at their best. So what does this look like?
Follow a Meal and Snack Schedule
First off, follow a meal and snack schedule so your child knows they have an opportunity to fuel up at expected intervals throughout the day. This helps curb both over- and under-eating while keeping hunger at bay.
Make Water Available Throughout the Day
Second, make sure water is available throughout the day and encourage them to take small sips regularly. When the body is hungry or thirsty, it’s much harder to keep up with physical activity.
Offer a Healthy Mix of Food Options
Offer a mix of healthy protein choices, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy foods. Keep in mind that kids need a variety of nutrients to fuel them for exercise as well as to support their growth and development. Try not to get too hung up on one food or food group, but instead aim to get an assortment of foods in over time.
Kids Nutrition For Game Days
Fueling for a successful game day often starts the night before. Do your best to ensure your child has a nutritious and filling meal the night before to make sure their energy levels are up for the next day. Don’t force them to eat, but maybe use it as an opportunity to serve something they really enjoy! And, again, drink that water because dehydration can negatively affect performance.
3-4 Hours Before Game Time
About 3-4 hours before the game, serve a meal or snack focused on carbohydrates and protein. Some suggestions include:
- Peanut butter & jelly sandwich, apple, milk
- Oatmeal with almond butter and banana
- Yogurt with blueberries and granola
If possible, avoid high-fat foods such as pizza, fries, or donuts. Fat slows digestion and may make your child feel sluggish. Additionally, keep sugary snacks and drinks at bay. While sugar will provide a surge of energy, it also comes with an unwanted crash.
One Hour Before Game Time
Roughly an hour before the game, serve a snack with simple carbohydrates to give your child a boost of energy. Try:
- Fruit (apples, bananas, mandarin oranges, etc.)
- Pretzels or crackers
- Granola bar or bites
After the Game
After the game, your child may or may not want a snack depending on their activity level. If they are looking for something to eat, make sure to offer carbohydrates to replenish energy and some protein to aid in muscle recovery.
Some examples include:
- Chocolate milk and fruit
- Apple or banana and peanut butter
- String cheese and fruit
- Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit