Power Foods to Fuel Your Child Athlete
The mother of a 15-year-old hockey player approached me for fitness advice as she observed that her son seemed to tire quickly, lacked energy and appeared lethargic all the time. Considering his high activity level, she couldn't understand why he appeared unfit?
About the Child (Let's call him Gregory)
In addition to playing high level ice hockey four to five times a week, Gregory also played for most of his high school teams. He was your prototypical "jock," who appeared confident and strong. He was at a healthy weight relative to his age and height. He complained that his legs often felt heavy and would start to burn in the middle of every shift on the ice. He wanted me to design a program for him that would boost his energy and allow him to play all sports at a high level.
My Initial Thoughts
The first thing I needed to do was to ensure that Gregory's "lack of energy" was not a cover for poor fitness level. After performing a battery of tests, Gregory passed all with flying colours. I checked his sleeping habits and he slept eight hours a night. His last examination at the doctor did not reveal any iron deficiencies. The most logical explanation was his diet.
After discussing his eating behaviours, it became clear that Gregory's lack of energy was a result of inadequate nutrition. I explained to Gregory and his mother that he needs to treat his body like a car. If he wants to perform like a high-performance race car, then he needs to use high-octane fuel. This includes consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats.
The Fuel Plan
(Please note: First and foremost, I always refer clients to experts in the specific area. In this case, they were comfortable moving forward.)
Although I am not a nutrition expert, I have been fortunate to work with some great Registered Dieticians and Holistic Nutritionists who've helped me put together some general rules and ideas about fueling the young athletes I work with. Here are the recommendations I gave to Gregory's mom:
1. Eat every 2-3 hours. The meals should be hormonally balanced and include:
- Lean proteins such as chicken, eggs and some fish. (30-35 percent)
- Low-glycemic carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain and protein enriched breads and pastas. (50 percent)
- Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocadoes and some fish. (15-20 percent)
2. Create a hormonally balanced pre-game meal. This should be consumed two to three hours prior to each game.
3. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
4. To ensure proper recovery and an optimal energy level on the following day, replace stored muscle energy within the first one to two hours after activity. I often recommend a fruit and protein smoothie.
5. Stay away from fried foods and simple sugars such a candy, pop and chocolate.
6. For athletes who train a lot, consult your doctor about taking a glutamine supplement for quicker recovery as well as extra vitamin C and E for extra immune system support.
All kids (athletes and non-athletes included) need to consume a wide variety of foods to give them vital nutrients for growth and disease prevention, to provide natural antibiotics to stave off harmful bacteria, to provide natural anti oxidants to strengthen and build their immune system as well as provide sufficient fuel to meet their daily energy needs. Here are some must-have "power foods" to include in your child's diet:
- Omega-3 eggs
- and... WATER!
Reggie Reyes is a certified kinesiologist and personal trainer. He is the president and founder of pt4kids a company that creates specialized training programs for kids all ages and fitness levels.