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Tips For Feeding Your Child Athlete

Think nutrient-dense.

Ask any athlete and they'll all tell you the same thing — what you eat before, during, and after a big game has a huge impact on your overall performance.

To help your little one make it to the big leagues you need to feed them right. "Kids need energy for sports and play, so it's important that they're consuming a nutrient-dense snack about an hour before their activity that contains carbohydrates and maybe a little bit of protein and fat," registered dietitian Sarah Remmer who specializes in child and family nutrition, tells HuffPost Canada.

Below, Remmer shares her tips for feeding your child before, during, and after game day. Plus, she explains the importance of creating a healthy relationship with food for the whole family.

How To Prep The Night Before

"Children should consume a nutritious, balanced meal that contains vegetables and/or fruit, whole grains and protein the night before game day."

Instead of always going for the usual suspects like rice and bread, Remmer suggests trying whole grains or starchy vegetables like quinoa, barley, sweet corn, and yams. Protein-rich items like fish, eggs, and lentils will also round out the meal. And of course, dinner wouldn't be complete without a serving (or two) of veggies and/or fruit.

"Hydration is important too," adds Remmer. "The best hydrating drink is water — milk is also hydrating, as well as soups and smoothies".

What To Eat Before The Game

"For a boost of energy right before, something energy-rich, but low in fibre, protein, and fat — like a granola bar, a banana, or an unsweetened dried fruit bar would work well. Too much protein, fibre, or dietary fat right before activity isn't a good idea, because these nutrients are digested slowly and can cause stomach upset if consumed right before sport. It's also important to hydrate before, during, and after activities, especially when it's hot out!"

What To Eat After The Game

"Within 30 minutes of sport, athletes should consume carbohydrates such as fruit, a granola bar or a glass of milk. Milk also contains protein and is a fluid, making it the perfect post-sport snack. Two hours later, children should consume more carbohydrates as part of a balanced meal (with protein and fat) to assist in rebuilding muscles and replenishing energy," says Remmer

How Many Calories Do They Need?

"A young, competitive athlete has higher energy requirements than the average child (anywhere from 500-1,500 additional calories per day), so it is important that meals and snacks are being offered frequently (at least every three to four hours), and that they are — for the most part — energy- and nutrient-dense," says Remmer.

Children should consume three balanced meals and two to three snacks daily. Meals may also need to be divided into smaller meals depending on training schedules.

Skip The Sugary Drinks Unless They're Long-term Competitors

"Most kids won't need energy drinks for sport," says Remmer, who notes that there are excess calories and sugar found in these beverages. "For competitive athletes who are participating in sports longer than 60 minutes, or for activities taking place in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks containing 6-8% carbohydrates (such as Gatorade) as well as electrolytes are recommended to replace energy, fluid, and electrolyte losses."

For everyone else, water should do the trick. Though the amount consumed depends on various factors such as age, climate, and weight, Remmer says young athletes benefit from two to three cups of water two to three hours before a sporting event. Then, while playing, athletes should consume 150-300 mL of water every 15-20 minutes.

Encourage A Healthy Relationship With Food

"Avoid any weight/diet talk, talk positively about your own body and your child's, and focus on all of the amazing things that your child's body can do," says Remmer.

She suggests taking the Ellyn Satter approach to "Division of Responsibility When Feeding Children," especially when feeding child athletes.

"The entire family should be served the same meals, and focus should be on balance, nutrition and enjoyment. Encourage kids to eat according to their natural hunger cues, eat foods that they love and enjoy, encourage (not pressure) them to try new foods and make meals positive," she added.

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