Are you the parent of a young athlete? Do you ever wonder what to feed your child when you know that he or she is expending incredible amounts of energy on the playing field? If you’re the parent of a child or teenage athlete, read on for great diet recommendations that will keep them moving in the right direction.
Most working parents don’t have the time to tend an organic garden and prepare healthy, appetizing meals for their families; you do however, know what they should eat: Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy types of protein and fat. It sounds pretty easy until you realize that your child is probably burning more calories than they are consuming.
Many parents feel that feeding young athletes increased amounts of protein will meet the nutritional needs of the athlete, but it is more complicated than that! While exercise does increase the need for protein, it is more important to focus on feeding the extremely active youngster carbohydrates.
An athlete must have complex carbohydrates because carbohydrates yield more energy per unit of oxygen consumed than fats. Since oxygen is often a limiting factor in longer athletic events, it is useful for the athlete to use the energy source requiring the least amount of oxygen per kilocalorie produced. In other words, the harder the body works, the more carbohydrates it will utilize. (1)
As mentioned, complex carbohydrates are a far better food resource for athletes than fats and proteins, although these are necessary as well. Complex carbohydrates include foods like spaghetti, lasagna, potatoes, cereals, and various other grains. Though they are not as effective for the longevity of the athlete, simple carbohydrates also provide nutrition and energy to the athlete. These include fruit, milk, honey, and sugars.
When digesting, the body turns carbohydrates into glucose, storing it in the muscles as a substance called glycogen. During exercise, the body changes the glycogen back into glucose, which is then used for energy.
For athletic events that require more than ninety minutes of heavy physical activity on a regular basis, the athlete should consume a diet where 70% of calories come from carbohydrates. If the event lasts for less than ninety minutes, “carb loading” right before competition will not be useful, because the body has already stored enough glycogen in the muscles to provide the required energy.
To sum it up, athletes need complex carbohydrates in their diets in order to perform at the top of their game. Remember that responsible parents consult the family physician before implementing a new diet for their children.