5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

Have you enrolled your child into a sport? Are you aware of the specialised nutrition that an athlete requires? Read on to know more about the foods to give to your child if he is into sports.

By Shiny Surendran

5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

Sports has become the favourite after-school activity for many children. Most parents enrol their children in sports for learning life skills, to get fit, shed weight or channelise their energy into productive activity. Apart from physical benefits, sport teaches valuable life lessons and helps them become resilient. Every child must play at least two sports before they turn 10 years old.

Why is a nutritious diet important for young athletes?

To maintain and enhance their performance in sports, all athletes need to have appropriate foods. Food is a fuel for physical activities — more so for active children. If children are physically active, they burn calories at an amazing rate, especially if they works out or play a sport. So, it is important to provide children with the energy they need. If they consume lesser than they burn, their growth and development get affected considerably. 

Besides foods, hydration is vital for energy and to enhance performance in sports. The ability to keep the body cool by maintaining its core internal temperature is low in children. They are also prone to dehydration much faster than adults.

Here are the major sources of foods and its benefits for young sportspersons:

Carbohydrates: It is the most essential nutrient for a young sportsperson as carbohydrate is a source of energy. A diet rich in carbohydrates would improve the athletic performance of your child. Carb-rich diet can keep fatigue at bay and help your child reach his peak performance.

Proteins: Proteins are essential for strong bones and healthy organs and muscles. The main job of protein is to repair and rebuild muscle tissues which are injured during strenuous physical activities. Protein is vital for building immunity too.

Fats: Young athletes need healthy fats as it provides the body with an energy required for physical activities. Healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate the level of inflammation in the body. Lack of fat in an athlete’s diet can result in hormonal imbalance too. Some of the healthy fats young athletes can have are nuts and seeds, coconut, coconut milk, pure ghee, butter, grass-fed cow’s milk.

Fluids: Those children who are into active sports must take care of their fluid intake. Make sure that your child is drinking enough water to replenish electrolytes after a game. If your child is practising hard, keep a tab on his urine output, urine colour and frequency and increase intake of fluids. Fresh fruit juices are an excellent choice to quench the thirst. Apart from that, tender coconut water, lime juice, milkshake, soy milk, etc. are other options

Here are the Top 5 foods for children who are into active sports:

1. Nuts and seeds

5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

How to use it: Make sure that your sporty child eats nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, flaxseed, etc. whole as a snack or in a powdered form with milk.

Benefits:

  • Good source of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrate
  • Good for digestion
  • Helps sustain energy for a longer time
  • Promotes recovery after a game

2.Tubers like Sweet potato and tapioca, yam

5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

How to use it:  Tuber vegetables like sweet potatoes, tapioca, yam are must-have items in an athlete's diet as these are rich sources of fibre, vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and manganese. You can make chips out of sweet potato and tapioca. Or you can make curry with these too.

Benefits:

  • Good for nerve function and muscle contraction
  • Excellent as post-recovery foods
  • Provide a good amount of potassium
  • Prevent muscle cramps and spasms

3. Dark green vegetables

5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

How to use it: All kinds of dark green leafy vegetables like spinach should go into an athlete's diet. Include these in soups, stir-fries and salads. Encourage your child to also have vegetables like carrots, beans — you can add these to sambar or dal or in stuffed parathas.

Benefits:

  • Contain essential phytochemicals
  • Rich source of vitamins, minerals, fibre
  • Provide energy to muscles 
  • Provide nutrients for growth and development

4. Probiotics

5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

How to use it: To keep the gut healthy, include probiotics in your child's diet. Ensure that your child eats yoghurt, buttermilk and raita

Benefits:

  • Buttermilk and curd are good options to maintain a clean gut
  • To replenish electrolytes after a game
  • Supply fluids for hydration and to keep the body cool
  • Probiotics are good for immunity

5. Fruits like banana and oranges

5 Nutrition-Rich Foods For Young Athletes

How to use it: Make sure that your young athlete gorges on fruits like bananas, oranges and cherries. Banana is an excellent fruit to have, as it is, before and after a workout. Or else, your child can have a banana smoothie. You can make fresh orange juice to have after play.   

Benefits:

  • Antioxidant present in fruits good to prevent inflammation
  • Good source of fibre
  • Boost immunity
  • Reduce muscle soreness

Things to keep in mind:

  • Meals for athletes should comprise 70 per cent of carbohydrates like rice, wheat, bread and fruits and vegetables.
  • Three to four hours before any event or workout, make sure your child has fruits and vegetables along with carb-rich food like rice.
  • Some of the best post-workout snacks are milkshake, lassi, bread and eggs, porridge, custard, pudding, nuts and seeds, legumes, meat, fish, cow’s milk. etc.
  • To provide energy for longer, try to pair carbohydrates with protein. This would not make the children hungry during active play. Protein and carb together would sustain energy and keep your kids play longer.

Here are some of the options for snacks for a young athlete:

  •  Nendram pazham (plantain)
  • Sathu mavu kanji, fruit juice or tender coconut water
  • Milkshake with cow’s milk. You can replace milk with coconut milk or almond milk
  • Fruit ladoos, rava ladoo, ladoo with jaggery, peanut bars, or sesame ladoo
  • Boiled or scrambled eggs with vegetables. Or an omelette with orange or sweet lime juice
  • Green peas curry or cutlet
  • Cucumber and pomegranate raita
  • Bread with peanut butter or bread with butter and jam, and juice
  • Sandwiches with different types of fillings like paneer, mushroom, vegetables like cucumber, carrot, cheese, egg, chicken or minced mutton with juice for hydration
  • Dry fruit ladoo with a fruit like banana
  • 1 cup of soymilk with fruits
  • Millet porridge with milk

The author is a well-known sports nutritionist and the first Indian to be certified with Graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition by International Olympic Committee.

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