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Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:34 a.m.

Fueling the busy student athlete means balancing nutrition from all food groups

By Melissa Gerharter MS, RD

The following is a guest post from Emily Seitz who is currently spending a six-week internship with Melissa Gerharter in Ann Arbor.

Fall is here! Now that kids are back to school, they are probably back in sports.

Sports require a lot of energy out of young athletes, and making sure they are well nourished is important. Providing the right amount of energy and nutrients for growth, development and sports performance is a balancing act. Thus, it is important for all kids to eat a variety of foods from all food groups.

Fueling physical activity is dependent on the interaction among nutrients. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins work together to support physical activity.

For kids involved in sports, there are additional nutrition issues to consider. For example, when to eat is just as important as what to eat for optimal performance. Drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated during physical activity is also key.

What to eat and when
It is important to eat two to three hours prior to exercise. Eating too close to a practice or a game can lead to an upset stomach, nausea and cramping. Choose a snack or meal that is rich in carbohydrates and moderate in protein. Avoid foods that are high in fat and fiber, as these take longer to digest and can cause physical discomfort.

Try fruit and yogurt, toast and peanut butter, or a muffin and an eight-ounce glass of low-fat milk.

Some kids can eat a small snack right before and during a sporting event, but this depends on the child and what works best for him or her. Eating a small snack can help maintain blood sugar levels and prevent feeling hungry.

A piece of fruit, granola bar or an eight-ounce glass of 100 percent fruit juice are good options.

A snack or meal should be consumed within 30 minutes following practice or competition. Eating foods that contain both carbohydrates and protein help to restore muscle glycogen and repair muscle breakdown. Post-exercise snacks include string cheese and fruit, pita chips and hummus or a smoothie made with yogurt and berries.

Fluids are important too
To prevent dehydration, it is important for young athletes to not only drink fluids before, during, and after exercise, but also throughout the day. Water is the best fluid for staying hydrated. One should drink 4 to 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during activity.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade are okay but not necessary. Keep the sports drinks for those who are exercising longer than two hours or on extremely hot days. One should also avoid drinking caffeinated drinks such as sodas and energy drinks as these can upset the stomach and have dehydrating effects.

Good nutrition is key for child growth and proper fuel for sports. Eating healthy foods and drinking enough fluids will help support and sustain their exercise. Using good nutrition gives young athletes an advantage that will keep them playing strong all season long.

Emily Seitz is a senior dietetic student at Eastern Michigan University and plans to graduate in the spring of 2012. She is currently spending a sixweek internship with Melissa Gerharter MS, RD, CSSD co-owner of Joust Strength and Fitness.


Rork Kuick

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

"One should also avoid drinking caffeinated drinks such as sodas and energy drinks as these can upset the stomach and have dehydrating effects" Reference for the dehydrating effects please. Cause I don't believe it. Just checking the woo, as usual.