Back to School: the care and feeding of student athletes
Making sure your kids eat right is important â€” especially when they participate in sports.
â€śWhen student athletes donâ€™t eat properly, their performance suffers,â€ť says Josh Purses, DO, a pediatric sports medicine specialist with MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.
â€śFood is fuel,â€ť says Lisa Lovejoy, MEd, RD, CSSD, CD, a registered dietitian at MultiCare who provides sports nutrition counseling. â€śItâ€™s just as important in athletics as the warm-up, cool down and practice.â€ť
Carbs are key
Many athletes believe that the key to their success is protein. But protein is mostly important for helping muscles recover after activity. For peak performance, itâ€™s carbohydrates that athletic bodies crave.
â€śCarbs are what athletes need,â€ť Lovejoy says. â€śThey are the fuel for the muscle. Itâ€™s amazing how little protein you need to do that work.â€ť
â€śIn many sports leanness is emphasized,â€ť Dr. Purses says. â€śThis often leads to athletes reducing their carbohydrate intake; then their performance suffers.â€ť
This doesn't mean student athletes need to live on bread and pasta alone. Carbohydrates come in many formsâ€”from whole grains to vegetablesâ€”so choosing a variety of foods that contain carbohydrates can help them get the balance that they need.
Water does a body good
Kids who play sports need to stay hydrated, especially when they are working hard during a game or match. And they shouldn't wait until they feel thirsty before they take a drink.
â€śYou need to drink ahead of your thirst,â€ť Dr. Purses says.
Dr. Purses recommends at least eight cups of fluids a dayâ€”and likely more if your athlete is playing a strenuous sport for longer than one hour at a time.
What should they be drinking? Water is always a good choice. Sports drinks are also recommended for athletes working hard for more than an hour. Avoid energy drinks that only deliver a load of caffeine or drinks that contain herbal â€śsupplements.â€ť In fact, herbal supplements of any kind are not recommended for children and teens at all.
â€śSupplements are not FDA regulated,â€ť says Dr. Purses. â€śYou donâ€™t really know for sure whatâ€™s in them.â€ť
â€śWe do not advise people under 18 to be consuming supplements, like creatine,â€ť says Lovejoy. â€śThere is simply not enough research done to know if they are harmful to kids.â€ť
Donâ€™t forget their bones
Muscle strength and cardio endurance are important for good sports performance. So are strong, healthy bonesâ€”especially for kids, whose bodies are still developing.
â€śAt that age range, youâ€™re building a lot of bone mass for the future,â€ť Dr. Purses says.
Calcium and vitamin D are important for building bones. Athletes who donâ€™t get enough can suffer loss of bone mass and stress fractures. Student athletes should be getting around 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day up until age 18, according to Lovejoy. This is especially important for female athletes at this age, who also need extra iron because they are at a greater risk for iron deficiency.
Send the right messages
Kids and teens who play sports sometimes feel pressured to have the right â€ślookâ€ť for their sport. This can lead to poor food choices. So itâ€™s important for coaches and parents to send positive messages to their athletes about body image, eating right and being healthy.
â€śCoaches and parents have a huge impact,â€ť says Lovejoy.
Luckily, thereâ€™s nothing complicated about helping your student athlete eat right.
â€śThere aren't any miracle foods out there,â€ť Dr. Purses says. â€śItâ€™s all about getting a good variety.â€ť
MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports offers sports nutrition services for kid, teen and adult athletes and teams, from metabolic rate testing to full sports nutrition counseling packages. Visit multicare.org/sports-nutrition for a full list of services.
This story is part of a series of "Back-to-School Tips" from the experts at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Center. Find more back-to-school tips and tricks in our online back-to-school center.
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