The Nutrients Your Active Kids Need Most
Your active kid is running, jumping and expending a lot of energy, whether they’re practicing after school or playing in a game. They need nutritious foods to support their efforts on the field and refuel their muscles off the field.
Keep these tips in mind if you’re not sure how to fuel your little one. With the right snacks and enough hydration, they can grow healthy and play their best.
Carbohydrates Before Activity
Your child needs to fuel up before they head to practice or play in a game, and the best micronutrient to focus on at this time is carbohydrates, according to Jenny Friedman,
Registered Dietitian. She explains: “Immediately before physical activity, carbohydrates are the best choice because they are easily converted to fuel and aren't likely to cause any belly issues.”
Keep in mind, that “many kids have early lunch periods during school, so they might start the game hungry,” explains the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Be sure to pack them an extra snack to eat before playing. If you forget their snack morning, bring food with you so they can fuel as soon as they get a break. Here are a few simple snack ideas for your active kid:
- Nut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread
- Low-sugar yogurt with fruit
- Low-fat string cheese and whole grain crackers
Well-Balanced Post-Activity Snacks
When the game is done, it’s time to refuel their tired muscles and body. Their post-activity snack or meal should be well-rounded, suggests Friedman: “After activity, it's important to refuel with all of the micronutrients—fat, carbs, and protein—however, protein and carbs are especially important for promoting muscle recovery and growth.”
A great post-activity snack is protein smoothie, which is easy to make and packed with protein, carbohydrates and other important vitamins and nutrients. To make sure your child’s fuel is coming from the best sources, choose a high-quality protein powder. For example, Healthy Height Shake Mix was made for kids ages 3 to 9 and developed and tested by pediatricians.
It’s also made with all the ingredients you love, and none of the ones you don’t, like gluten, rBST, artificial flavors, preservatives and corn syrup. One serving packs 12 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 22 grams of carbohydrates—just what your child needs after a hard practice or long game.
In addition to fruit and protein powder, don’t forget to add veggies, like roasted sweet potato, spinach or even celery, to sneak in the vitamins their growing body needs.
It can be easy to overlook hydration in the fall, but Friedman reminds parents to keep it on their radar: “Just because the weather is cooling off, it doesn't mean that kids can neglect hydration. Sports drinks aren't necessary unless the activity is prolonged or in a very hot environment.”
To make sure your child is getting enough water, follow guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
- 5 cups/day: Girls and boys, ages 4 to 8 years
- 7 cups/day: Girls, ages 9 to 13
- 8 cups/day: Boys, ages 9 to 13
- 8 cups/day: Girls, ages 14 to 18
- 11 cups/day: Boys, ages 14 to 18
Keep your child hydrating at school with a refillable water bottle. If they don’t like regular water, opt for a fruit-infuser bottle, which you can use to add foods like oranges, strawberries, lemon or cucumber to flavor the water.
You can also keep active kids hydrated with foods that a known for their high-water content, including:
Your active kid needs to eat a well-rounded diet. While some may need more of one micronutrient than another thanks to special diet needs, they likely need one thing: to eat more calories, suggests Friedman.
The reason is simple: energy balance. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute explains that as you expend energy—running around on a soccer field, for example—you need to take more energy in.
As you focus on providing your active kid with more calories, remember that all healthy meals are comprised of three micronutrients: carbs, protein and fat. Use the following guidelines for daily micronutrient needs (for kids ages 4 to 18) when planning meals and prepping food and snacks for the week:
- Carbohydrates: 45 to 65 percent of total caloric intake
- Protein: 10 to 30 percent of total caloric intake
- Fat 25 to 35 percent of total caloric intake
For example, a somewhat active 8 year old girl needs 1,400-1,600 calories per day, according to National Institute of Health. As such, potential intake ranges of all three macronutrients for 1,400 calories per day, are:
- Carbohydrates: 630 to 910 calories
- Protein: 140 to 420 calories
- Fat: 350 to 490 calories
Don’t forget that, as Friedman puts it, “Parents should take advantage of increased hunger by offering nutritious foods. It's an opportunity. I'd be prepared to offer extra snacks or larger portions than during less active times.”
Make healthy snacks ahead of time so your active child has plenty to munch on when hunger strikes, whether that’s after school during homework time or while watching T.V. at the end of the day.
Nutrients for Active Kids
Your active kid needs to fuel their growing body and tired muscles with a well-rounded diet. Don’t forget to focus on carbohydrate for pre-activity snacks and a combination of carbs and protein for afterward. As the cool weather moves in, remember to prioritize hydration too—send them to school with a water bottle they can refill during the day and take with them to practice or their game.
At the end of the day, your active kid needs calories to replenish what they lost, so use this as an opportunity to give them healthy snacks and meals that fuel their body before, during and after activity.
The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.