Three Top Health Tips for Young Athletes
Active kids keep parents on their toes. Young athletes are a high-energy group, and they need parents to devote just about as much energy to ensuring that in their busy lives, these kids are getting the nutrients and rest they need to succeed on and off the field. Here are three important ways to make sure young athletes stay healthy and energized.
1. Think fuel—and nutrition
A regular diet high in vegetables, fruits, lean protein and grains and low in processed foods and sugar is an obvious first start. These foods provide necessary vitamins and minerals along with protein and energizing carbohydrates to fuel active muscles. When it comes to fuel for competition, keep in mind a few more specifics. Experts advise athletes to eat a meal two to four hours before competing. Choose complex carbohydrates for the bulk of the meal, as they are easily digestible and will provide energy at game time, and add in some lean protein. Tasty Homemade Granola with Wheat Germ topped with Greek yogurt, a turkey sandwich on wheat bread or this Tuna, Spinach, White Bean and Wheat Germ Wrap provide good pre-game nutrition, and the wheat germ in the granola and tuna wrap will help your child stay full longer.
About 30 minutes before game time, your athlete may need a small snack. Energy bars are quick and efficient energy boosters, and homemade ones with wholesome ingredients are even better. These Honey Crunch Energy Bars with Wheat Germ and Dried Cherry, Walnut, Wheat Germ and Peanut Butter Bars can be made in advance, frozen and defrosted the morning of the game for a nutritious pre- or post-game snack.
2. Encourage them to drink up
Staying hydrated before, during and after athletic competition is critical. The challenge for parents of younger athletes is getting them to drink plenty of water—and not the sweet and carbonated stuff. Don’t wait until pre-game warm-ups to check to see if they’re tipping that water bottle. Get the liquids flowing a few hours before competition when they have their pre-game meal and keep them sipping right through and beyond the game’s last whistle. If your kids play sports that occur over a couple hours or are particularly intense (cross country racing, football, basketball), a sports drink that replaces electrolytes lost during play will help improve energy and hydration. However, put the sports drinks away after game time, as they contain high amounts of sugary calories.
3. Make sure they get their ZZZ’s
An important step to ensuring active children maintain excellent health is making sure they get enough rest. Teens should get 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and younger children even more. Studies show young athletes who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk of injury and decreased athletic (and academic) performance, while those who get more than enough sleep often see a boost in athletic performance.
What is your child’s favorite pre-game meal? Let us know in the comments below!