Sports Nutrition - Fueling your Young Athlete

By Christina Zavaglia, MHSc, RD, CDE

Fueling your young athlete and learning about sports nutrition and a healthy diet is important for all athletes, including kids and teens. Children may need encouragement to eat nutritious foods so involving them in the planning, selection, and preparation of meals and snacks increases the likelihood that they will eat healthy. Since childhood and adolescence are important periods for physical growth and development, it’s important to ensure kids are getting enough calories to support this growth as well their activities.

As we’re preparing to send our young ones back to school, keep in mind kids are also more likely to experience exercise induced dehydration, so be sure to pack plenty of fluids in their gym bag as well as healthy snacks. In most cases, sports drinks are not necessary and water is the best source of hydration.

Whether you are an elite athlete, marathon runner, someone who frequents the gym to stay in shape, or a young developing athlete, the food you fuel your body with can have a huge impact on your performance and your recovery.

“One 3.5oz serving of Chickapea pasta has 35% of your daily iron needs.”

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy when exercising or playing sports. Your body stores carbohydrates in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. When you exercise, glycogen is broken down by the muscles so that you can use it for energy. If you do not have enough glycogen, you may feel tired or find it difficult to perform well. Eating enough carbohydrates can help ensure you have plenty of stored glycogen to help you achieve top performance. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, milk and yogurt, fruit, and legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils, like those found in Chickapea Pasta.

A couple of hours before you exercise or play sports, it’s a good idea to eat something with carbohydrates, this will help ensure you have enough energy to perform well. Try some examples like oatmeal with milk and berries or whole grain toast with peanut butter. After an intense workout or sporting activity, lasting more than an hour, you want to eat a carbohydrate rich meal or snack to replenish your glycogen stores. Some examples include breaded baked chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetables or try this Healthy One-Pot Enchilada Pasta.

Protein is important for building and maintain muscle tissue. If you regularly exercise at a high intensity, your protein needs are higher than the average person. Research suggests that eating 20-30g of protein at each meal is a good amount to help build and maintain muscle. Including a variety of different protein sources in your diet helps ensure you get protein as well as other essential vitamins and minerals. Good sources of protein include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, fortified soy milk, and legumes. A 3.5oz serving of Chickapea Pasta contains 27g of protein.

Iron is a mineral that helps carry oxygen throughout your body and to your muscles. If you don’t get enough iron, you may feel tired and it may be difficult to perform well. Sources of iron include meat, fish and poultry, beans, lentils, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit. Iron from plant sources is not as well absorbed as iron from animal sources. Combining plant based sources of iron with vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, or strawberries helps improve absorption. One 3.5oz serving of Chickapea pasta has 35% of your daily iron needs. Adding some red peppers to your tomato sauce or having an orange for dessert can help increase iron absorption. 

Tiffany O’Connor, a Toronto based triathlete sums up the importance of proper nutrition for performance: “As an athlete, you are always trying to perform at your best and nutrition is a critical building block to getting there. With every bite, you are fueling your body to have a great workout and to recover from it so you are ready to do it again the next day.”  We agree with Tiffany.

For more information on sports and exercise nutrition, contact a registered dietitian.