By Alaina Brandenburger

Children who play sports have different nutritional needs than those who are more sedentary. Different foods can help replenish nutrients and help your children perform at their best. Conversely, improper nutrition can wear children down and hamper their performance on the field. If your children play sports, follow these nutritional guidelines to help them maintain proper health and peak performance.

Count Calories

Most children have a higher metabolism than adults, and there are times in their growth and development in which their caloric needs increase. This is also true of athletes who burn a significant number of calories on a daily basis, as restricting calories can have a detrimental effect on a growing child. According to the National Institute of Health, “Balancing energy intake with energy expenditure is crucial to prevent an energy deficit or excess. Energy deficits can cause short stature, delayed puberty, menstrual dysfunction, loss of muscle mass and increased susceptibility for fatigue, injury or illness.” Making sure that your children are eating enough to sustain their activity level can help them balance sports and other responsibilities more effectively.

Balance Their Diet

Knowing that your active children need a higher level of calories, it can be tempting to give them high-calorie foods. However, it is important that your child’s diet is balanced and nutrient-dense. Unless your child has a food allergy, there is no reason to cut out any food groups. KidsHealth.org mentions the benefits of keeping carbs in your child’s diet: “There’s no need for ‘carb loading’ (eating a lot of carbs in advance of a big game), but without carbs in their diet, kids will be running on empty. When you’re choosing carbs, look for whole-grain foods like whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread and cereal, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.” Feeding your children a balance of carbs, healthy fats and protein will help keep them alert and energized.

Hydrate

With many sports drinks, sodas, energy drinks and other options on the market, many kids don’t drink enough water. But staying hydrated is important for youth athletes. FamilyDoctor.org outlines the benefits of drinking enough water. “Water regulates your body temperature and lubricates your joints. It helps transport nutrients to give you energy and keep you healthy. If you’re not hydrated, your body can’t perform at its highest level. You may feel tired, have muscle cramps, dizziness, or other serious symptoms.” This is true for young athletes as well. Sports drinks help hydrate and can replenish electrolytes, but many of them have high amounts of sugar. Encouraging your kids to drink water will keep them hydrated without adding any extra sugar to their diet.

Making sure that your young athletes are eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated can help them maintain energy levels and perform at their best. It can also help them to stave off potential injuries and other risks associated with improper nutrition. Finding healthy recipes and mixing up meals can help expose your kids to new, healthy foods, which will improve their athletic performance.

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