Jena DeMoss: Fueling champions — A guide to spring sports nutrition for kids

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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Spring is here, and your kids are kicking it into high gear with long practices, all-day meets, and travel to and from competitions! So how do you fuel your growing athlete so they can have fun, achieve their peak performance and avoid injury? The keys are simplicity and consistency, so let’s navigate this fueling season from meals to hydration to snacks. Fueling is not just about performance during the game – it’s about building healthy habits for life!

For everyday nutrition – and especially the night before a big game or competition – focus on building a balanced meal. Carbs are the energy heroes, so plan to include simple carbs like white pasta, rice or light-grain bread. These are easier to digest and store for use the next day than whole grains, so save those for the night after a game. Start by selecting a source of protein (fish, chicken, beef, tofu) and pair it with a grain (pasta, bread, tortillas) or starchy vegetable (potatoes or corn). Then add a non-starchy vegetable or fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers, berries) and round it out with a serving of calcium and vitamin D found in milk or fortified dairy alternatives. Balanced meals set kids up for triumph on the field! You may have heard the phrase “Eat the rainbow!” We mean it quite literally. By incorporating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies into their diet (and yours) you ensure more vitamins and minerals to support their growth and development. Plus, a more colorful plate can be visually appealing and encourage them to enjoy mealtimes.

Nutrition isn’t just about energy – it’s also a crucial player in preventing injuries. Growing athletes and those in competitive sports can be prone to overuse injuries if prevention isn’t a key part of their everyday routine. When it comes to healthy bones, muscles and joints, protein takes the spotlight.

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It’s not just for bodybuilders; it’s essential for muscle growth and repair. Seafood, lean meats, tofu and beans are fantastic options to incorporate into meals. Feel free to mix protein sources too! Beef and bean burritos are popular for a reason, and you can round out the meal with a fruit or vegetable and a side of dairy or a fortified dairy alternative to incorporate all-important nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium.

Fish such as salmon and cod are full of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids that support brain health and development as well as vitamin D, two nutrients that everyone could use more of in their diet – especially your active kids! Did you know that nearly 60% of all seafood harvested in the U.S. comes from Alaska waters? Look for Wild Alaska Sockeye Salmon or Wild Alaska Cod for nutrient-dense protein sources the whole family will love. Start simple by serving fish tacos at the next family meal night!

Hydration is another game-changer for sports performance and injury prevention! Water should be young athletes’ constant companion throughout the day. Cramps and joint issues can often be avoided simply by staying properly hydrated. In hotter weather or for longer practices and meets, consider sports drinks like Gatorade or Liquid I.V. for Kids to replenish lost electrolytes through sweat. Fruit also contains water, so including an apple or orange as a snack can boost hydration and sneak in a few extra vitamins and minerals.

And let’s not forget the often-underestimated factor: rest. Sleep is a vital component for everyone, especially growing and active kids. Caffeine intake, especially in the form of energy drinks or coffee in the afternoon, can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Screen time can also stimulate our brains a little more than desired at bedtime, so consider offering other activities like reading when you’re close to bedtime.

Nutrition for sports goes beyond the table, and snacks are a great way to ensure your child is getting enough calories to fuel their practices. Prepackaged and portion-controlled snacks can be a key time-saver in your busy schedule. Trail mix, kid-friendly protein bars, and applesauce pouches are convenient options that don’t require refrigeration and can easily be added to a backpack or practice bag.

However, if you have time to prep ahead or a child who loves to help you in the kitchen, consider making a batch of these Cranberry Coconut Energy Bites to fuel up before or after practice!

Cranberry Coconut Energy Bites

All you need

• 3 cups old fashioned oats

• 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

• ¾ cups dried cranberries

• 1 cup freshly ground peanut butter

• ¾ cup honey

• 1 tbsp vanilla extract

All you do

1. Add all dry ingredients (oats, coconut flakes, cranberries) to a medium-sized bowl. Mix together with hands or a spatula.

Add all wet ingredients (peanut butter, honey, vanilla) to the same bowl. 2. Mix together with hands or a spatula.

3. Once mixed, pinch off some of the mixture. Roll in the palm of your hand until the bite is 1- to 2-inches in diameter.

4. Roll all bites until you have no mixture left. Enjoy!

Dietitian Tips It’s recommended to store up to 5 days at room temperature or 1 week in the refrigerator. Perfect to pack in backpacks or sports bags for on-the-go snacking pre or post practice and games!

Recipe source: Hy-Vee dietitians