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Nutrition for your young champion !!

Got a sports crazy little one in your family? I have one!!

My son is going to be 9 in a couple of months and we are blessed that he just loves physical activity. Most of his day is spent in various physical activities. He is a huge fan of Rafa, so tennis is an important part of his routine. Overall he eats a well balanced meal and has a healthy growth pattern. But now that he is thinking about devoting more time to tennis, should that balance change for him?

We all know that kids need to eat the right amount and varieties of foods to support that higher level of activity and it increases more so if your kid is going for competitive sports. And as a parent we are clueless about what exactly to give and most of kids end up having supplements and health drinks for that extra nutrition. But there’s a lot more to eating for sports than pushing down carbs or gulping sports drinks. It’s all about working the right foods into your child’s fitness plan in the right amounts.

Consult your child’s doctor or a certified nutritionist/dietician for making a meal plan suiting your child, instead of looking up to friends or internet for that matter.

Nutritional Needs of Young Champions

“Proper nutrition is the key to unlock your body’s potential”

Balanced nutrition is vital for children to attain proper growth and perform optimally in sports. Children who eat regularly healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks will anyways get the nutrients needed to perform well in sports.

On the other hand, a child involved in competitive or high endurance sports involving more than 1-2 hrs of vigorous work out at a single stretch of time, however, will have higher energy and fluid requirements than other kids.

Young children involved in sports need to learn what foods are good for energy, when to eat certain foods, how to eat during a game, and when and what to eat to replenish after activity.

So lets talk about what constitutes a balanced diet for your little champion:

Carbohydrates: Carbs provide energy (glucose) for the body and for a young sportsperson they’re an important source of fuel. Carbohydrates should comprise 45% to 65% of total caloric intake for 4- to 18-year-olds. There’s no need for “loading” (eating a lot of carbs in advance of a big game), but without carbs in their diet, its like trying to run a car without adequate diesel. You are bound to stop!!

When you’re choosing carbs, look for whole-grain foods (whole wheat/rice/cereals), and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Protein: Protein helps build and repair muscles, hair, nails and skin and most kids get plenty of it through a balanced diet. For mild exercise and exercise of short duration, proteins do not act as a primary source of energy. However, as exercise duration increases, proteins help to maintain blood glucose. Protein should comprise approximately 10% to 30% of total energy intake for four- to 18-year-olds. Most young children involved in sports get plenty of protein without giving it much thought unless vegetarians.

Good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and nuts, including peanuts and soy products. Too much protein however can lead to dehydration and calcium loss.

Fats: Fat is necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), to provide essential fatty acids, protect vital organs and provide insulation. Fat also provides the feeling of satiety. It is a calorie-dense source of energy but is more difficult to use. Fats should comprise 25% to 35% of total energy intake for four- to 18-year-olds (however saturated fats should comprise no more than 10% of total energy intake).

Good sources of fat include lean meat and poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and olive and canola oils. Fat from chips, candy, fried foods and baked goods etc. should be avoided.

Vitamins and minerals: Kids need a variety of vitamins and minerals out of which Calcium, Vitamin D and Iron are the most important ones:

    • Calcium helps build strong bones to resist breaking and stress fractures. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, broccoli, as well as leafy green vegetables such as spinach and fortified grain products.
    • Iron helps carry oxygen to all the different body parts that need it. Iron-rich foods include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified whole grains and nuts. Iron depletion is common in adolescent in sports because of diets poor in meat, fish and poultry, or increased iron losses in urine, feces, sweat or menstrual blood. Therefore, athletes, particularly young female athletes and vegetarians should be given iron supplementations.
  • In addition to above, they need a whole bunch of other vitamins and minerals. Eating a balanced diet, including lots of different fruits and veggies, should provide the vitamins and minerals needed for good health and sports performance. There is no role of routine multivitamin supplementation.
  • Remember, there is no role of products marketed as sports supplements.

So make sure your child gets three nutritious meals and no skipping! A meal should include most food groups and at a minimum, at least three to four of the following food groups: a protein source, dairy, fruit, vegetable, healthy fats and/or a whole grain food source.

Drink Up!

Its our humble water, which comes out as a winner, despite loads of marketing for various drinks (as usual an unhealthy marketing gimmick, which sadly most of us believe).

So let your kids slurp up lots of water during playing. It’s important for young children to drink plenty of water while playing to prevent dehydration, which can affect strength, energy, and coordination and lead to heat-related illness. This is more so important in competitive sports. Even mild dehydration can affect the performance.

Remember thirst is not a reliable sign of hydration status, so it is recommend that kids drink water or other fluids before and every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity. It’s important to drink afterwards also to restore fluid lost through sweat.

Low fat milk is a great drink choice, esp post recovery. Homemade lemonade/coconut water are other options, which can be given.

A word about sports drinks:

Although many sports drinks are available, as said above plain water is usually enough to keep kids hydrated. Sports drinks are designed to provide energy (sugar-provides an immediate source of energy at the time when body stores are used up ) and replace electrolytes — such as sodium and potassium — that kids lose in sweat (keep the body’s fluid levels in balance and help muscles work properly). They can be a good choice for kids who participate in strenuous physical activity for more than 1 hour or in high intensity sports, because after exercising for 60 to 90 minutes, the body has used up its readily available sources of energy.

However, daily casual play doesn’t need sports drinks. For most kids, plain water is all they need.

A big No, No for energy drinks….!!

Beware of however energy drinks, vitamin waters and products marketed as herbal supplements, which are loaded with sugar and caffeine and unusually high amounts of vitamins and untested herbal ingredients ( to be avoided totally in children). Also avoid sugary drinks and carbonated beverages that can upset the stomach.

The bottom line is that for most children, water is the best choice for hydration. After the activity, carbohydrates and electrolytes can be replenished through a balanced diet.

Children in competitive sports:

Some school-age kids face unique pressures involving diet and body weight especially those involved in competitions. To reach peak performance in some sports, it’s common for kids to feel that they need to increase or decrease their weight.

Because athletic kids need extra fuel, it’s usually not a good idea for them to diet. This can leave kids with less strength and endurance and poor mental concentration.

Similarly when kids try to increase their weight too fast for sports where size matters, they do so by overeating. But the body can’t immediately use this food and it gets stored as fat. As a result, kids may gain weight, not muscle, and their physical fitness will be harmed.

If a coach or teammate says that your child needs to lose or gain weight, talk to your doctor. The doctor can work with you and your child or refer you to a dietician to develop a plan that allows your child to work on the weight in a safe and healthy way.

The Big Day!!

It’s important for kids to eat well on game days. The meal itself should not be very different from what they’ve eaten throughout training. They can choose healthy foods they believe enhance their performance and don’t cause any problems like stomach upset.

Here are some general guidelines:

PC: This infographic is from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

  • For activities lasting less than 60 minutes, select water for hydration.
  • For high intensity activities lasting more than 60 minutes, select sports drinks along with water for hydration, electrolytes, and energy from carbohydrate.
  • A meal 3 hours or more before activity should have plenty of carbs and a moderate amount of protein but should be low in fat and fiber because they take longer to digest, which can cause an upset stomach.
  • If a child eats less than 3 hours before game, give a lighter meal that includes easy-to-digest carbohydrate-containing foods, such as fruits, or bread etc.
  • After the game or event, experts recommend eating carbs (fruit, nuts, etc.) within 30 minutes after intense activity and again 2 hours later. Your child’s body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing energy stores and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition. So it’s important that the post-game meal be a balance of lean protein, carbs, and fat.

It’s important to feed your child healthy meals and snacks consistently, even during the off-season. This will provide a solid foundation during times of competition.

There is no magical food or supplement that can transform a child into a champion. No matter what the age of your child, the most effective way to improve sports performance is to pay close attention to the basics: fluids, calories, training, conditioning, and rest.

” Your body is a finely tuned vehicle, give it a good fuel and it will take you places!!”

Eat healthy, be sporty fit!!

Dr Garima| themoppetsclinic 🙂


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