Q&A: What Should I Feed My Athletic Kids?

If you are the parent of an athletic child, you may wonder if young athletes have special nutritional needs. Or, are they just small grown-ups who can follow the same sports nutrition program as adults?

This article addresses some of the nutrition questions parents ask about fueling their active, growing children.

Q. Should I let my 14-year-old son drink a protein shake for breakfast and again before bed? He wants to bulk up.

Growing children need to consume adequate protein: 0.5 to 1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight, or about 60 to 90 grams protein for a 14-year-old who weighs 120 pounds. He can easily get this much in three glasses of milk (30 gm) plus the protein in a sandwich at lunch (20 gm) and an average plate of spaghetti with meat sauce (30 gm) at night.

Most growing boys eat double portions and get double protein--especially if they drink milk.

While adequate protein is important to build muscles, eating extra protein via supplements will not build bigger muscles. Don't waste your money! As your son matures, the hormones that kick in at puberty (plus strength training) will create muscular bulk.

Q. Does my third-grade daughter really need a sports drink after her soccer game?

As long as your daughter drinks adequate fluids, she does not need a sports drink after her soccer game. Cold water and juicy oranges are fine refreshers. (Sports drinks are actually designed to be consumed during exercise lasting longer than an hour.)

Your job as a parent is to be sure your daughter has access to palatable fluids. For her, this might mean a sports drink. But other beverages and snacks can provide needed fluids and carbohydrates.

Young athletes who exercise intensely for more than 30 to 40 minutes might benefit from a sports drink during exercise. They are at higher risk for becoming dehydrated than adults who do the same workout.

Children have a greater body surface area in respect to their body weight, so they gain heat faster from the environment than do adults. They also produce more body heat at a given running speed, and they sweat less than adults do. (Each sweat glands produces about 40 percent less sweat than an adult's.)

This means: Drink frequently during exercise to prevent dehydration!

Q. Between my son's baseball games and daughter's soccer schedule, we rarely eat dinner at home. Any suggestions?

Children often eat poorly because their parents have failed to plan for better choices. For example, let's look at the rush to get to the event. With fluids, try to keep the refrigerator stocked with 16-ounce bottles of water, lemonade and juice. Grab them and go; you'll reduce your kid's intake of soda and sports drinks.

With snacks, stash granola bars, pretzels, animal crackers and fig cookies in the car; you'll reduce trips to the snack shack for candy and chips.

If you know you'll be getting fast food for dinner, you can at least swing by Papa Gino's (pasta, thick crust veggie pizza) or Taco Bell (bean burritos). Most fast food restaurants offer a healthful option--if you aren't too hungry to choose it.

Packing along a post-game recovery food that doubles as a pre-dinner appetite tamer (bagel, yogurt) can help reduce the temptation to fill up on fries, double bacon cheeseburgers, fried chicken, etc.

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