With the spring sports season in full swing, parents of young athletes are busy coordinating carpool schedules to practice, purchasing proper sports equipment and soothing muscle soreness caused by competitive play.
But often, parents overlook two important factors influencing sports performance — nutrition and hydration.
To perform at their best, children should be eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of fluids hours before practice or competition begins. Growing children and youth need an added boost of energy to stay alert throughout the day and play a sport after school.
Also, many young athletes aren't getting enough fluids in their system throughout the day.
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Here are a few tips for feeding and hydrating a young athlete:
■ Consider meal timing throughout the day. Don't let children walk out the door without eating a small breakfast, such as a fruit or bowl of cereal. Children should eat a nutritious lunch two to four hours before sports play. If a child eats an early lunch, then provide the child with a small snack, such as a vegetable or grain, to eat about 45 minutes before a sports activity.
■ Shop for balanced, nutritious food sources. A nutritious lunch should include a source of protein, which helps to build and repair muscles used during sports play. Protein-rich foods include lean meats, dairy, nuts and beans.
Vitamins and minerals such as calcium and iron help fortify bones to protect against breaks and stress fractures. Dried fruit, eggs, fish and leafy greens are all great sources of iron. Finally, carbohydrates, when consumed in moderation, are great sources of fuel for athletes. Resist the urge to "carb-load" at the local restaurant before a major sports event, which can weigh down young athletes. Opt instead for whole grains and fruits and vegetables as sources of carbs.
■ Pack a water bottle. Hydration is an important predictor of sports performance. Children and youth need eight to 12 ounces of water five to seven times per day, or to drink half their body weight in ounces. So an 80-pound child should drink 40 ounces per day. Pack a water bottle with them and encourage them to take sips all day.
If they are unable to carry a water bottle, make it a rule of thumb to always take a drink when passing a water fountain. A parent can determine whether their child is adequately hydrated through the shade of their urine, which should be clear. Children should take water breaks during sports practices, especially in hot and humid climates.