Athletic Nutrition - Meeting the increased needs of our active kids

Does Athletic Nutrition Mean My Kid Has to Eat More?

The short answer is YES. But in no means does your kid need to eat 12,000 calories a day unless they're Michael Phelps. Who can forget the swimmers body chiseled to perfection from hours and hours of training. So those 12,000 calories got used up and nothing was left to sit and wait to develop around his waist line.

Kids in the 6-12 range will usually need 1,600 to 2,500 calories a day. For athletes this number goes up. Puberty makes a big difference in their calorie needs also.

If your child is participating in some form of athletic activity for 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day then they will need to consume more food to satisfy the increased demands for energy. In some instances you can use a meal replacement shake or bar if getting a regular meal in will be difficult. But it's always best to get the majority of your calories from food.


Food equals calories. But where these calories come from is just as important, if not more so, than just getting the calories. It takes a variety of nutrients and food types to ensure proper health and accommodate your kid's athletic nutrition needs.

Every Meal should include a Protein, Complex Carbohydrate, and Fat. The body needs all of these nutrients. The breakdown looks something like this:

  • Carbohydrate - these are the key energy source for your child. Candy bars don't count nor does any simple sugar. It may only provide a momentary energy surge followed by a greater drop. Food sources from whole grains - brown rice, whole-grain bread and cereal, and always fruits and vegetables
  • Protein - key for muscle repair and building. Fish, beef and chicken are great meat sources. If in a pinch protein shakes with either whey, casein or soy will suffice. Those with a high quality fiber source will also help them feel full and squelch cravings for more carbs.
  • Fats - good fats of course. Those from nuts and olive oil are great sources of mono and poly-unsaturated fats. Fish are a great source of Omega-3 Fatty acids as well.

Multi-vitamins and minerals are key for the athletic kid and their nutritional needs. With the increased demands on their bodies minerals like calcium are critical. Some sites will recommend products with Iron in them. I'm not on-board with that line of thinking. Too much iron can be detrimental to a kid's health and even toxic. A readily absorbable multivitamin and mineral supplement (minus the iron) will help fill the gaps.


Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!

If your child isn't getting enough fluids/water to prevent dehydration you will notice that they will appear to be "Zapped" of energy and their coordination will be off.

I can't count how many times my kids have told me that they weren't thirsty during a heated soccer match or volleyball match. Most likely they probably aren't thirsty. Thirst isn't the most reliable indicator of dehydration. Experts recommend that your kid drink some water every 15-20 minutes during any physical activity. Once the game is over it is still recommended that they drink another 8 oz. or more.

Sports drinks may be provided after the game and can help restore some of the electrolytes lost during play. I think that most are just one level below a soda these days with the amounts of sweetener they put in them and probably shouldn't be included your kid's athletic nutrition program. Even still, after an hour or more of intense play their body's will use up a large amount of the available resources.

Body Weight Challenges

In our ever increasing quest to ensure we make our child an elite athlete they will often have to face pressure about their weight and/or appearance. This can be the need to gain weight or lose weight based on the sport and an associated weight class. My own nephew just had an initial weigh in for Pop Warner football and has to lose ten pounds before the season kicks off or he can't play. Granted this weight policy is designed to help protect the other kids from being pulverized by someone that is twice their size. Besides that's what high school is for isn't it?

Remember I mentioned how athletic kids burn more calories than their more sedentary peers. This is why dieting is not recommended as a substitute for good athletic nutrition for your kid.

If you have concerns because your child's coach or PE teacher is recommending they lose weight then consult your pediatrician and put together a plan for your child that will provide a safe and healthy plan for weight loss.

Pre- and Post- Game Meal Planning

On game day there is nothing special that your kids should be eating but they do need to eat. If they have early morning games and can't get a good breakfast in then they should have a light meal with easy digesting foods - fruit, fruit or vegetable juices and maybe some toast. The reason to not eat too heavy is that it will slow your kid down on the field or court. And if they are giving it their all, a heavy meal could upset their stomach.

If there is a time window of 3 hours or more then make sure they have a good meal with protein and complex carbs. These will both provide a long lasting energy source. Keep it lean on the amount of fats in the meal since they take longer to digest.

Once your kid's game is finished it's best to eat some carbs like fruit and even a sports drink within the first 20 minutes after play. A little protein wouldn't hurt either. Then at least 2 hours later they should have a regular meal of protein, carbs and fats and plenty of fluid. It's during this down time that their bodies are recovering and need the proper reserves to rebuild muscle and tissue along with replenishing energy stores.

Return to Kids Nutrition from Athletic Nutrition 

Return to My Kids Best Fitness and Nutrition from Athletic Nutrition