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Hydration and Young Athletes

Organized sports are loved by parents everywhere due to the fitness offered. However many still are uncertain as to the best way to provide proper nutrition and fluids to their young athletes.

Many Sports nutrition experts recommend eating about two to three hours before game time. For morning games, that means getting up early enough to eat two hours before game time. For events in the early to mid-afternoon, breakfast and lunch are important. For late-afternoon games add a light afternoon snack and for evening games, all of these meals plus an early light supper is recommended.

Keep in mind oily, greasy fast foods such as burgers, fries, chips, or pizza can take up to three hours to digest so it’s best to choose healthy, nutrient-dense whole foods. You might also include 100% fruit juice or some fruit such as applesauce, an apple, some grapes, or a banana. I also recommend providing a modest amount of low-fat protein in pre-game meals. For vegetarian families, whole grains, legumes, soy products, and nuts and seeds are great protein sources. Other good choices include goats milk or soy milk or yogurt, one egg, or a sandwich on whole grain bread made with a quality lean meat.

An equally important part of pre-game nutrition is drinking enough fluid. Dehydration is uncomfortable, hampers performance and in extreme cases, can be dangerous. Pre-game meals should include one or two cups of water. Then, about 30 minutes before the activity, youths should drink one to two cups of cool water to arrive fully hydrated.

It’s best to avoid sodas, energy drinks and other high-sugar drinks right before the event because the high sugar content, carbonation, and other chemicals can cause stomach cramps and nausea during strenuous game activity. Outside of sports time, the preferred beverage to relieve and prevent thirst is water as well.

Some parents I have consulted have reported it helpful to mark lines on kids’ drink bottles as a guide to help them drink enough throughout the game or practice. By half-time, for example, they should have consumed half of their water. Depending on the sport some professionals recommend weighing your child before and after a sports event. Weight lost in such a short time is fluid loss, and your child can re-hydrate by drinking one cup of water for every half-pound lost. Weighing also helps you learn how much fluid is needed for your young athletes to stay properly hydrated.

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