Nutrition For Your Young Athlete
Nutrition is extremely important for any young person, especially an athletic one, and even more so during the developmental years of their life. Whether your child is involved in soccer or football, gymnastics or swimming or Little League, he or she needs a good nutritive balance in order to be successful in any endeavor. It cannot be stressed enough that anorexia and bulimia, chronic malnutrition, are absolutely devastating not only to an athlete's career, but also to overall health and well-being. You should always watch for decreased eating in your child, no matter how robust and healthy they may seem.
Interestingly enough, very few scientific studies on the nutrition of child athletes have been published. You don't really need to be a scientist (or an alchemist) to create a healthy menu for your active youth, though. All you need is a little bit of creativity, and, of course, the facts about different kinds of foods. As is dictated by common sense, it's necessary for kids who are active to consume more caloric energy than their couch potato counterparts. Sometimes, they must take in several hundred - or even a thousand - healthy calories more than the average child, depending upon their age and upon the intensity of the sport they're participating in.
So what types of food should you give your gymnast? I'll help you out.
Everyday nutrition calls for a healthy balance of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals. The most important type of caloric intake for a child athlete is carbohydrates. Without carbohydrates, the body cannot readily replenish its stores of energy in the muscles and in the liver.
Simple carbohydrates, like those found in most candies and chocolates, are not enough & harful if consumed excessively: they are used up too quickly and if eaten before competing can cause changes in blood pressure (of course, you can splurge every once in a while -- just not constantly). Longer term effects may be changes insulin secretion and resulting problems.
Pasta, bread, and rice -- in other words, foods from grain -- are best overall for carbohydrate intake. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of carbs and of vitamins and minerals. Dairy products are especially important for building strong bones and teeth. Meat -- or meat substitute -- is needed for protein intake.
Did you know that if you know... if you put beans and rice together, they create a perfect protein?
Most plants don't produce all of the proteins we as human beings need to survive -- but if they are eaten at the same time, they give you all the protein you need. That means you can have refried beans with rice, or meatless chili with rice, or a variety of other combinations, if indeed you don't want to eat beef, chicken, pork, or other animal proteins.
Before an Event
Approximately two to three hours before your child is to participate in an event, or indeed in training, you should have them eat a light meal filled with carbohydrates: a bowl of spaghetti, a sandwich with lettuce and a glass of fruit juice, carrot sticks and a piece of cheese, or something else to their taste. It's always advisable to have them exert themselves on a slightly empty stomach, because they may experience cramping or fatigue otherwise.
During an Event
During an event or practice, it is vitally important that your athlete remain hydrated. When he or she sweats profusely, water is lost to the atmosphere via evaporation. A lot of vapor is also lost through deep breathing.
This is the body's natural cooling system. It needs to be replenished, just like the cooling elements in your air conditioner. Every twenty to thirty minutes during strenuous exercise, your child should drink six to eight ounces of water. A sports drink is acceptable sometimes, so long as it has few carbohydrates (under 15-20 grams is best). Even diluted fruit juice (one part water to one part juice) will work well.
Keep in mind that dehydration is a very serious problem with athletes -- and when they begin to feel thirsty, it may already be too late. Whether or not they are thirsty, you should keep them hydrated with water, juice, or sports drinks.
After an Event
After an event, it's a good idea to let your child have something full of carbohydrates to eat - just like the pre-game meal. This will replenish their energy stores and ease their recovery time.
With all of this, good luck!
By Murray Hughes
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