Feeding your Active Child
Having a well balanced diet helps provide your child with the energy needed to fuel activity but also support growth and development.
This blog post will outline the importance of macronutrients, micronutrients, and fluid intake for your active child. There are also some tips, recipes, and meal ideas to help fuel your child pre and post activity.
What do the macronutrients do and how much does my child need?
Carbohydrates are the most important source of fuel for active children, as they provide our body with glucose (aka sugar). Glucose can be stored in our liver and muscles and is most readily available for energy when our muscles are working. Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of total energy for children 4-18 years of age. Some healthy carbohydrates include, fruits and whole grains (e.g., oatmeal, rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereals etc.).
Protein helps build and repair our muscles, skin, hair, and nails. Our body does not use protein as a primary source of energy during mild exercise, however during long periods of exercise protein can help maintain our blood glucose levels. Proteins should make up 10-30% of total energy for children 4-18 years of age. Some healthy protein sources include, lean meats, eggs, fish, tofu, legumes (beans), and nuts/seeds.
Fat helps protect our organs and keep our bodies warm. It is also needed to absorb some vitamins (e.g., vitamins A, D, E, and K) and it provides our body with essential fatty acids (e.g., omega 3s), which are needed reduce inflammation in the body. Omega 3 intake in children has been linked to reduced hyperactivity, increased attention, and reduced asthma. Fat plays an important role in growth and development during early childhood and should make up 25-35% of total energy for children 4-18 years of age. Some healthy fat sources include fatty fish, nuts and seeds, dairy or dairy alternatives, and vegetable oils (e.g., olive oil, avocado oil etc.).
What about vitamins and minerals (aka micronutrients)?
Although there are many important vitamins and minerals for children, it's especially important to ensure athletic children are getting enough calcium, iron, and vitamin D.
Calcium plays an important role in the growth and development of strong and healthy bones. In addition, it also helps with muscle contraction and functioning. You can find calcium in a variety of foods including, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, nuts like almonds and much more.
Iron plays an important role in delivery oxygen to all our body parts. In children it also helps support growth and increases in muscle mass. You can find iron in dark leafy greens, eggs, lean meats and fish, legumes/beans, and fortified whole grains.
Vitamin D also plays an important role in bone health, as it helps regulate the absorption of calcium in the body. You can find vitamin D in some foods like fortified dairy products (e.g, milk), fatty fish, and egg yolks. However, the best source of vitamin D comes from the sun.
Tip: on sunny days get outside with your child for at least 10 minutes where their hands and/or face gets some exposure to the sun. In the winter months, a supplement of at least 400 IU per day is recommended for children. Talk to your health care provider to discuss exact amounts for you or your child.
How much fluid does my child need?
Athletic performance in children can be impacted by what they are drinking, how much, and when they drink. Fluid has many important roles like regulating body temperature, replacing sweat lost during exercise, and ultimately helps keep your child hydrated. Dehydration can impact your child's performance, often leading to quick fatigue or depending on the conditions heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Fluid requirements are personal and depend on a variety of factors including age and body size.
In general, aim to have your child drinking water before, during (every 15-20 minutes), and after the sporting event. That might look like 400-600 ml 2-3 hours before the activity and 150-350 ml every 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, your child should drink enough water enough to replenish sweat lost during activity, this varies depending on child and type of activity. (Purcell, L., 2013).
Although sports drinks are available, water alone is usually sufficient for hydration purposes. However, if your child is involved in strenuous activity that goes beyond 1 hour, offering some type of sports drink or diluted juice can help replenish their electrolytes.
Bottom line: water is the best choice of beverage to hydrate pre, during, and post activity. Electrolytes can be replenished after the activity through a meal or snack.
What should my child eat before and after exercise?
Timing of meals is very important. In general eating a well balanced meal including (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) is ideal 3 hours prior to allow for digestion and reduce the risk of stomach upset. However, playing around with the timing that works best for your child is important (that might be 1-2 hours before). It is also important to experiment with meals and see what types of foods fuels your child best before activity.
- Limit fibre in pre activity meal
- Avoid high fat meals, they are slowly digested and can have your child feeling "sluggish"
- If you are strapped for time, prepare your child a liquid meal (e.g., smoothie) or snack (smaller meal) 1-2 hours before the activity and have them eat their main meal post exercise
Example meals (pre activity):
Cereal with milk, fruit, and turkey bacon
Scrambled eggs, toast, and fruit
Whole wheat pita with lean meat and veggies
Roasted chicken, small baked potato, and veggies
Stir fry with meat or tofu, veggies, and rice
Whole wheat pita pizzas (with favourite toppings)
Option to have milk (cow, almond, coconut etc.) with meal or water
Example snacks (pre activity):
Yogurt, berries, granola
Pita, veggies, and dip
Small pita or english muffin pizza with nut butter
Your child should eat or drink something 30 minutes after activity and again 1-2 hours after to allow the muscles to repair and replenish. A combination of protein and carbohydrates is ideal to support optimal recovery.
Tip: pack a small snack to have post activity (e.g., crackers and cheese, fruit and yogurt, graham crackers and seed/nut butter) with water. Have a meal that includes protein and carbohydrates 1-2 hours afterwards (e.g., fish sticks, potatoes and veggies, chicken stir fry with rice and veggies, bean burritos, tacos etc.)
Providing your child with healthy meals or snacks pre and post activity is a great to ensure they are energized and excited to keep moving.
If you have any specific questions about your child and their activity, please don't hesitate to connect.
Cheers to happy and healthy eating.
Until next time,
Eat Right Feel Right - Angela XO