Good nutrition—it’s not just for breakfast anymore. It’s for growth of a young body, preventing diseases, maintaining healthy functioning tissues of the body all the way to your cells, and fueling the body involved in exercise activity. Daily proper nutrition helps sustain and support exercise demands on a regular basis. If your child participates in competitions or sporting events, there are some more basics to cover.
Remember that the days leading up to an event or practice are important to keep fuel and energy stores full with good sources of complex carbohydrates. Fats are slow and difficult to digest, so they should be avoided for the few hours before an event. Choose good sources of nutrition that the body can use quickly without the danger of a sugar crash. A donut with a candy bar chaser is not the way to go—but don’t think I haven’t seen it. Maintaining excellent hydration is also key to prevent going into an event already dry.
Fluids such as water and sports drinks are important to maintain energy and hydration. If the event lasts for hours with breaks between competition, light carbohydrate snacks such as fruit, natural yogurts, or concentrated gels can be used along with water and sports drinks. Highly caffeinated drinks or high-sugar soft drinks are not recommended because these pull fluids away from tissues that need them.
This is a very important aspect to recovery that many kids overlook. The amount of energy spent needs to be replaced to allow the body to be ready for the next training session or exercise bout. Your child’s muscles are like wide receivers just waiting to restore what they have used up. The ability to soak up muscle carbohydrate like a sponge is best during the first 30 to 60 minutes after exercise, and the process seems to work better with a little protein. This restoration process has important implications. If your child uses up more stored energy than she replaces, you can see that the storage unit will slowly get emptier over time. Inability to completely and properly replenish carbohydrate stores can lead to a progressive decline in performance, exercise staleness, overtraining, depression, and immune system malfunction.
Nutritional sources are not only important for carbohydrate replacement, but also for antioxidants that are critical for providing the clearing machinery necessary to get rid of free radicals and other chemical by-products of exercise and keep the immune system andother cells healthy.
Rehydration must also occur to make up for sweat losses and heat exposure. Remember that having a poor thirst drive is a developmental problem with youngsters. They also base their intake on taste. These characteristics show the importance of having mandatory drink breaks and also determining the best way for your child to want to have adequate fluid intake. Water is usually great, but kids often will not like it because it has no taste. It will suffice for short events, but if there are longer situations, your child may need something different to keep her adequately hydrated. Some of the electrolyte sports drinks taste better to them, which helps them drink more, and those drinks also help keep the thirst drive stimulated because of the electrolyte effects.
The basic 4 components of performance are genetics, equipment, training and technique, and nutrition. Because genetics cannot be controlled and equipment can be equalized, it boils down to training and nutrition, which are intimately connected. Your youngster may train for hours, but without the right nutrition, training cannot be supported optimally. Kids have the added need to provide calories for both growth and exercise energy. Good nutrition is not limited by age and developmental boundaries, so proper nutritional practices can and should be started from birth.
Back to the Basics
Every day I hear more about the worsening nutritional world that surrounds our youth, and every day I see, read, and hear more about the importance of fruits, vegetables, and grains for disease prevention and long-term health. So, Mom was always right. Back to the basics again. The government even thinks they are so important for disease prevention that it has raised the recommended daily servings and supports a new food pyramid. It’s easy to recommend, but not always so easy to do. These basics apply to everyone. If youth are to grow and exercise properly, it’s necessary for them to eat properly—but they don’t. Kids and adults can be pretty picky and not only have trouble getting the daily recommended servings, but getting the variety they need to provide the most nutritionally intense value of food.