When she works with professional athletes, registered dietitian Mitzi Dulan explains to them that their bodies are like well-tuned, high performance race cars that need proper maintenance to get the most out of their bodies when they’re out on the field or court. “Not only does proper nutrition help kids perform well when they’re playing sports and being active, but it helps them grow optimally as well” says Dulan.
Here are three tips from Dulan’s The All-Pro Diet, co-authored with NFL Superstar, Tony Gonzalez, to help sporty kids keep their engines going and growing:
1. EAT REAL FOODS
If you want to perform your best, eat the best. For us, food is our fuel. But not just any fuel will do—real, natural foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources such as chicken and fish are packed with energy and important vitamins and minerals. Limiting foods made with additives, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners is also helpful since many of these highly processed foods may be loaded with calories and/or be nutrient-poor.
To help all your body’s parts run smoothly, be sure to stay hydrated before, during, and after physical activity. For those who exercise vigorously for at least an hour, a sports drink can be a healthful option during and after physical activity. Research shows that kids drink more when the beverage tastes good, so this is especially important for kids who spend lots of time competing in tournaments, games or at practices (as well as any time they’re sweating a lot). For those who spend less time in moderate to vigorous activity, water is a best bet; you can spike it with small amounts (2-4 ounces) of 100% fruit juice or give your kids seltzer or club soda if the taste of plain water doesn’t appeal to them.
When you cool your engines after practice or a game, it’s important to help your body recover and refuel so it’s ready to go again the next day. Proper recovery is also important to maximize the benefits of training. To do this, you’ll need to refuel and do it quickly! Within 30 minutes of physical activity, make sure to drink a source of both carbohydrates and protein to help your muscles grow and repair optimally. An example of a beverage that balances carbohydrates and protein to aid recovery is low-fat organic chocolate milk—just be sure to count those extra sugar calories (and perhaps have one less cookie or fewer bites of ice cream when it’s time for dessert later that day).