Fuel your kids right! Sounds easy enough…
We all know the reality is feeding our kids is fraught with decisions, opinions, endless choices and worry. To help sort through the confusion, we asked a renowned sports nutritionist - Coach Elizabeth Inpyn - for her best ideas to help us make our kids stronger and healthier, and to take out some of the guess work.
What are your favorite snacks for pre- and post-game fueling?
Simple is always best. Kids are particular with the things they will and will not eat. I like to recommend foods that are easy to access, quick to eat and taste somewhat bland. An almond butter and jelly sandwich is the perfect example, and most kids will eat it. Crackers with nut butter and banana slices is another example of something that can be packed in the morning and last until after school before a game or practice. Bars are a great option because kids find them a bit sweeter and ‘cooler’ than homemade stuff. Lara, Kind, Picky Bars, Cliff Z bars, something about 200 calories or less and with 10g of sugar or less. If kids aren’t super hungry they can grab a handful of raisins and peanuts (or help them make their own healthy trail mix), or carrot /celery sticks with hummus if they want something less sweet. If they have little time between school and practice things like Fig Newtons, animal crackers, or a homemade mini banana muffin can suffice.
After a workout, big old glass of chocolate milk, some applesauce and string cheese, a healthy smoothie (homemade not the store bought kind), an apple with nut butter are great options, and you are looking for about 200-300 calories, no more.
The most important tip I’d give is what NOT to eat - sugary sports drinks, sugary sports bars, candy or really fatty foods like a slice of pizza or fried stuff, soda, and….eating nothing at all.
Is there an ideal time to eat these to help kids perform their best?
The best advice is to stay fueled throughout the day, don’t skip meals. Kids might skip breakfast because they just aren’t hungry that early, but find a food they’ll eat. Oatmeal, healthy pancakes, dinner leftovers, hard boiled eggs, a turkey sandwich… just get something in. Then remind them to eat regularly during the day. Where performance is concerned, as with adults, you should look to feed them something about 60-90 minutes before a game or match.
When should kids start using energy drinks during practice or games, if ever? If so, are there some better than others?
Energy drinks - NEVER a good option for kids, EVER!! There are just too many risks. In fact, as a parent I would make sure the team isn’t supplying or promoting Red Bull, Monster, 5-Hour Energy etc. These are dangerous for young hearts. If kids need energy, add hours of sleep, better food, some meditation and maybe a lighter practice schedule so their bodies have time to recover.
Hydration beverages… another story! If it’s good for adults, it’s good for kids, meaning that kids need hydration too, but they don’t need the sugary, processed stuff that glows in the dark (I tell adults to avoid these as well).
Young athletes sweat at different rates than adults and they lose less magnesium but more potassium - so refueling with some potassium is important.
If practices or games are less than an hour, limit the sugar in the hydration product. Nuun is a good option. If they are practicing in the heat and/or for a longer period of time, a product like Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator, coconut water, pomegranate or apple juice diluted and Pedialyte are great choices. Just avoid a hydration product that contains caffeine.
Protein has been a hot topic with adults and exercise. How much protein to kids really need and should we use protein supplements with them?
Kids need between .5 - 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight (depending on activity level and sport). Protein is important, so make sure your kids are eating it as many just want to live on carbohydrates! Protein boosts immunity, helps muscles build and recover, and keeps them growing! We forget kids are growing and we need to support their bodies.
Beware of protein powders. Stores like GNC sell all kinds of things, many not suitable for children or young adults. Those muscle building brands can contain dangerous substances. Look for CLEAN powders, I recommend a plant based one as this is a great way to sneak in a healthy non-animal protein and you’ll know it doesn’t contain hormones or other toxic added ingredients.
I also think it’s important to remind you about healthy fats: 25% of their diet is a good place to start. Avocados, olive and coconut oils, grass-fed butter and foods rich in omega-3s such as salmon, nuts and seeds (and their butters) are all excellent examples.
There are many sports and nutrition bars on the market today. How do these rate as snacks for kids?
As discussed earlier, generally most sports bars are garbage (at least the ones marketed to kids). Look for ones made of whole food ingredients, have an ingredient list where you can pronounce each item listed and know what it is. Look for ones that are lower in sugar and make sure kids aren’t relying on them for the bulk of their diet. One a day, maybe two if they have double workouts. Now is the time to teach them to eat real food!
This article is part of a new educational series by RJFA that will focus on health and safety for young athletes. Thank you to Anne McDonnell who is leading the charge to help educate our parents and community.
Coach Elizabeth Inpyn has a long and successful career as an athlete and coach that began in the backyard pool, a three-lane, 25-yard lap pool. An NCAA Division 1 distance swimmer and water polo player, she transitioned into triathlon after college and is a multiple podium finisher at the Olympic and 70.3 race distance and a USAT National Qualifier at the Olympic distance. Coach Elizabeth has an undergraduate degree in Humanities from UCSB, an MA Education in Health Sciences and a CA Teaching Credential in Health Sciences and History. In addition, she is a certified sports nutritionist from the ISSN (International Society of Sports Nutrition), holds a plant based nutrition certification from the T Collin Campbell Institute. Inpyn is also EMT certified, including a certification in Water Search & Rescue.