The nutritional needs of growing athletes can be a bit confusing for parents, especially when they seem to be eating basically everything in sight. Here’s a quick guide:
- 2-3 servings of lean meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs (one serving is 3 ounces)
- 3-4 servings of milk, yogurt or cheese (one serving is 1 cup of milk)
- 6-11 servings of breads, cereals, rice and pasta (one serving is one slice bread or + cup of pasta, rice or cereal)
- 2-4 servings of fruit (1 piece of fruit, + cup juice)
- 3-5 servings of vegetables (1 serving is + cup cooked or 1 cup raw)
Essentially, while caloric needs vary with age and athletic intensity, pre-teen and young teen athletes (ages 10-14) should be shooting for around 1600-2200 calories per day. Younger kids (ages 5-9) 1400-1600 calories per day. These approximate estimates are based on the assumption that kids are getting about 60 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Kids that participate in after-school sports for 120-plus minutes of intense activity should even add 200-400 additional calories to their diets while in season.
A great way to get your kids to fuel up for athletic performance is to prepare and pre-position them with healthy snacks. It’s also important to get kids to look at nutrition from the standpoint that they are looking at food as fuel, rather than just some thing to make them not hungry. Encourage your kids to do research, have them search the Pinterest or other websites to find new nutritionally dense recipes, heck, they might even try something new!
Never use the word “diet”. Kids need to develop good eating habits at a young age, without taking restriction into account. Balanced eating needs to be the focus, not just a temporary fix for game day.