Proper Nutrition for the Youth Athlete

Synopsis: Quitting time for Mom and Dad is five o’clock. Bobby’s soccer game is at six, while Susie’s volleyball game is two miles away from the soccer field and starts just 15-minutes later. This leaves little time for grabbing a healthy pregame meal. With a bit of preparation, an unfortunate trip to the fast food drive-through can be avoided.

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The pre-game meal for youth athletes does not have to be complicated. Just as parents pack a school lunch for kids, they should also pack a pregame meal which can be eaten an hour before game time or practice. A peanut butter sandwich, fruit (like an apple, orange or grapes), yogurt and carrot sticks can supply the energy needed for a youngster to participate in a sports activity. If a child is old enough to safely operate a microwave, prepare a serving of pasta or rice to be reheated. It is a solid choice as a pregame meal and it has carbohydrate intake to supply energy. It is best to caution on the ‘light’ side when it comes to pregame foods. If there is not enough time for an actual meal, let the young athlete munch on a granola bar, trail mix or pretzels.

The best drink solution when faced with the short time allotted between a meal and game activity is a non-carbonated sports drink. Many nutritional programs for professional athletes involve a game day regimen of pre-hydration via such drinks. Stay away from the sugary, carbonated beverages. Water is also a great option.

Make sure the meal the night before an athletic event is also healthy and balanced. A meal consisting of a combination of carbohydrates, a little protein and fruit can provide the stored energy required for athletic competition. Poultry, fish, beans and other legumes can supply the protein which will help muscle building and quicker recovery time for the athlete. Breads, milk and vegetables provide the carbohydrates. A healthy breakfast adds fuel as well. Cereals, milk and fruit contribute much needed nutrients.

Don’t forget the postgame nutrition. A lot of calories are burned off when a kid plays an hour or more of soccer, football or basketball. It has been determined chocolate milk to be an excellent choice after an athletic event. Some say it is better than a sports drink for replacing nutrients lost from sweat. Chocolate milk is a good source of potassium, sodium and electrolytes. The fact it takes milk longer to leave the stomach means more of the nutrients are absorbed by the body. Chocolate milk is also a great source for protein and carbohydrates which assist in muscle recovery and muscle building.

Of course, the best postgame meal is one where the entire family is involved. Take advantage of winding down with everyone involved, whether it is over one of Dad’s grilled steaks or surrounding a pizza picked up on the way home.

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