Feeding Young Athletes

Clean options at the airport are limited, so McKenna, Livy and Kelly travel prepared.
Clean options at the airport are limited, so McKenna, Livy and Kelly travel prepared.

My daughter Kelly is a competitive gymnast, training nearly 20 hours a week. What her and team mates can do with their bodies is awe inspiring as are the incredible demands put on their little frames.

As parents of sport athletes, we work diligently to find world-class coaches, purchase top of the line equipment and pay for costly lessons. Often times we overlook the easiest (and arguably most important) preparation. NUTRITION. I can’t predict if my little champion will stay on the beam during a back handspring series, but I can with great certainty know if she is fueled properly for practices and meets.

Just because they are kids, doesn’t mean they have to exist on “kid food.” If your kids are active athletes,that’s all the more reason to fuel them properly! Think about how much better you feel when you are well fed and rested, and the same goes for the small humans, even though they can’t always acknowledge it. Some things to keep in mind when using food as fuel for the young ones:

Don’t believe the hype!
It’s a myth that kids should load up on anything they want because they will “burn it off” when playing sport. Most kids don’t carry extra weight by nature of their activity level and fast metabolism, but that is no reason to fuel them on crap. You don’t do it to your car, so don’t do it to your kid! If your child has an unhealthy BMI, it’s best to help them learn better habits as they grow while setting a good example with your own food choices. Often times, better performance in sport will be the incentive they need to eat better.

Be fluid
Fluid is just as important as food when prepping for game day. Kids are more likely to suffer a heat related illness when moving in the heat, because they are not as likely to recognize warning signs. Water is both paleo AND gold standard, and children should have 8 ounces every 30 minutes during strenuous activity. Pre hydration is also important to stop dehydration before it begins. A few hours before practice or an event have your child consume 8oz of water and 15 minutes before have an additional 4-8oz. Lightly sweetened sports drinks are ok to replenish post-game, but should not be consumed with meals or in replace of water. They can lead to bad habits that are hard to break.

Protein is key
Don’t forget about your kid’s muscle recovery! Provide a snack rich in protein 30 minutes post sport. If you choose to give your child a protein shake, do your homework. Many are laden with sugars and additives. At Steve’s PaleoGoods, we prefer to chew our food! Check out PaleoStix and PaleoJerky for yummy kid-friendly options, easily kept in the gym bag for when hunger strikes.

Carbs are cool!
Carbohydrates are even more important for kids as they don’t have the glycogen stores that we have as adults. Low carb diets are not a good idea for kids and can actually impair athletic performance as they will tire quickly and lack the energy to compete. Teach your kids balance rather than swearing off food groups as “bad.” They hear everything we say and follow our lead.

Preparation is not anything, it's everything!
Preparation is not anything, it’s everything!

T’was the night before.
The evening prior to competition, make sure your child has a balanced meal rich in healthy carbohydrates as the main source of energy for physical activity. Provide a small snack 1-2 hours before for fuel. Kelly loves 5-8 Dried Strawberries to sustain her through a 4-hour competition. She’s only moving for roughly 30 minutes of that time, and the dose of healthy carbs and natural sugar keeps are evenly energized. She keeps the bag in her competition bag just in case anyone on her team feels a little low on GO!

Fat is a friend
Loading up on fat is not a good idea for anyone, but either is avoiding it completely. Make sure your child has some healthy fat on board as it is also a key source for energy. Nuts, avocado, bacon, nut butters and healthy cooking oils are all great sources of healthy fat.

Balance is key
While my daughter works to maintain balance on the beam, I think about the balance on her plate. Making sure she has snacks and meals with the adequate amount of protein, fat and carbs keeps her evenly fueled and prevents crashing both on and off the gym floor. My daughter puts enough pressure on herself to perform her best each and everyday, the least I can do is keep her evenly keeled by not avoiding any of the macronutrients. PaleoKits are great in a pinch for balance and ease of travel. Just because we need FOOD FAST does not mean we turn to fast food.

Each child is an individual
Know your child and their specific needs as it relates to food. In a world where parents obsessively work to give children every possible advantage on the field, rink, court and mat, nutrition is an easy one to get right. Setting up your child for lifetime of good eating habits is a gift that will last long after their competitive sporting days are over.

Don’t just prepare them for the game. Prepare them for life!



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