QUESTIONS SPORTS PARENTS ASK:
What Should I Feed My Athletic Kids?
By: Nancy Clark, MS, RD
If you are a soccer parent, you may wonder if young players have special nutritional needs. Or, are they just small grown-ups who can follow the same sports nutrition program as adults? This article addresses some of the nutrition questions parents ask about fueling their active, growing children.
Q. Should I let my 14 year old son drink a protein shake for breakfast and again before bed? He wants to bulk up.
Growing children need to consume adequate protein: 0.5 to 1.0 gram of protein/pound of body weight or about 60 to 90 grams protein for a 14 year old who weighs 120 pounds. He can easily get this much in three glasses of milk (30 gm) plus the protein in a sandwich at lunch (20 gm) and an average plate of spaghetti with meat sauce (30 gm) at night. Most growing boys eat double portions and get double protein, especially if they drink milk.
While adequate protein is important to build muscles, eating extra protein via supplements will not build bigger muscles. Don´t waste your money! As your son matures, the hormones that kick-in at puberty (plus strength training) will create muscular bulk.
Q. Does my 9 year old daughter really need a sports drink after her soccer game?
As long as your daughter drinks adequate fluids, she does not need a sports drink after her soccer game. Cold water and juicy oranges are fine refreshers. (Sports drinks are actually designed to be consumed during exercise longer than an hour.) Your job as a parent is to be sure your daughter has access to palatable fluids. For her, this might mean a sports drink. But other beverages and snacks can provide needed fluids and carbohydrates.
Young players who play and train intensely for more than 30 to 40 minutes might benefit from a sports drink during exercise. They are at higher risk for becoming dehydrated than adults who do the same workout. Children have a greater body surface area in respect to their body weight, so they gain heat faster from the environment than do adults. They also produce more body heat at a given running speed, and they sweat less than adults do. (Each sweat glands produces about 40% less sweat than an adult´s.) This means: Drink frequently during exercise to prevent dehydration!
Q. Between my son’s matches and daughter’s soccer schedule, we rarely eat dinner at home. Any suggestions...?
Children often eat poorly because their parents have failed to plan for better choices. For example, let´s look at the rush to get to the event. With fluids, try to keep the refrigerator stocked with 16-ounce bottles of water, lemonade and juice. Grab them and go; you´ll reduce consumption of soda and sports drinks. With snacks, stash granola bars, pretzels, animal crackers and fig cookies in the car; you´ll reduce trips to the snack shack for candy and chips.
If you know you’ll be getting fast food for dinner, you can at least swing by Papa Gino’s (pasta, thick crust veggie pizza) or Taco Bell (bean burritos). Most fast food restauarants offer a healthful option, if you aren´t too hungry to choose it. Packing along a post-game recovery food that doubles as a pre-dinner appetite tamer (bagel, yogurt) can help reduce the temptation to fill up on fries, double bacon cheeseburgers, fried chicken, etc..
Q. My kids are junk food junkies. I try to get them to eat more broccoli and bananas, but I’m rarely successful...
Despite popular belief, kids (and their parents) do not have to eat a perfect diet to have a good diet. Most active children can meet their nutrient needs within 1,200 to 1,500 calories of a variety of wholesome foods. Hence, they do have space for some "junk", in moderation.Your children may actually have trouble getting adequate calories if you strictly limit treats.
One trick to reducing your children´s intake of not-so-good foods is to have available a healthful “second lunch” after school/before soccer. Enjoying a bean burrito, English muffin pizza, cereal with milk, fruit smoothie or a sandwich is preferable to the standard routine of munching on candy bars, cookies and chips. A healthful "second lunch" is particularly important for kids who eat poorly at school lunch.
Q. As my son is training harder, he’s getting very skinny. How can I tell if he’s eating enough to grow normally?
Your pediatrician can tell you if your son is growing normally by routine height and weight measurements plotted on a growth chart. (You can find growth charts at www.cdc.gov/growthchart. ) Hard training will not stunt his growth–as long as he is eating adequately. If he seems overly fatigued and lethargic, he may be eating too little. Encourage more milk and juice (in place of water) as easy ways to boost calories.
Active children may need as many calories as their parents, if not more. For example, the average 6 year old needs 1,800 calories/day (40 cals/lb) plus more for soccer. The average 9 year old boy or girl (75 lbs) requires about 2,500 calories/day (32 calories/lb). Add on soccer and the number jumps by 300 to 600+ calories. ( To estimate your child’s calorie needs, use the Nutrition Calculator at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/etext/000035.html.)
Q. My 10 year old daughter wants to lose weight but she really doesn’t have excess body fat...
Dieting is standard among soccer players and athletes in sports that emphasize leanness. But the pressure to acquire the "perfect" body can bode trouble ahead if the dieter has issues about being "not good enough," a poor self-image and low self-esteem. All too often, diets are not just about weight. Dieting increases the risk for developing a full blown eating disorder.
As a parent, you need to downplay body size as an important currency of worth, and teach your daughter to love herself from the inside out. Never comment about the size of large children; your child will conclude she must be thin to be valued and loved, and she will start dieting. This is particularly important with young girls who are coping with body changes during their struggle to be the best at their sport. Their efforts to control weight may lead to a frustration, guilt, despair and failure, and an eating disorder.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD is a member of SoccerSpecific.com´s advisory panel and offers private consultations at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA ( 617-383-6100 ). She is author of the new Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Third Edition ($23) and her Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions ($20). Both are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com or by sending a check to Sports Nutrition Materials, PO Box 560124, Newton MA 02465.
Four Common Myths About Nutrition Among Soccer Players
By following the nutritional guidelines below, players, coaches and teams can put themselves in an advantageous position before the match starts.
Four Common Myths About Nutrition Among Soccer Players Dr. Donald T. Kirkendall
from U.S. Soccer Resource Center
By Donald T. Kirkendall, works with U.S. Soccer's National Teams
There are more myths that coaches, players and parents may be following, but below four of the more common myths are dispelled. By following the nutritional guidelines below, players, coaches and teams can put themselves in an advantageous position before the match starts.
Myth 1: Game performance is not affected by what you eat.
Virtually every study on athletic performance for both team and individual sports shows that a diet rich in carbohydrates improves running performance. However, nutritional research from the 1970s to present day still show that soccer players choose a diet that is approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, 40 percent fat and 20 percent protein.
What is discouraging is that in the very early 70s, the Swedes conducted a study that showed soccer players with low muscle fuel (glycogen) walk about 50 percent of the game. Even 30 years later, a study showed that more than half of a national team in the 1994 FIFA World Cup thought food had nothing to do with their performance. The bottom line is that players eat what is put in front of them.
The more carbohydrates an athlete eats, the more endurance he or she will have. This means that when the end of the game approaches, the player will be able to run faster and longer if he or she consumed the proper amount of carbohydrates.
Myth 2: What you eat after the game does not matter.
At games and tournaments around the country, players will sometimes eat the worst post game snacks possible including soda, sweet drinks in soft packaging, potato chips, candy bars and fries. Everyone who has ever been to a soccer field on a weekend has seen this.
Muscles are most ready to receive a fresh supply of fuel during the first hour or two directly following exercise. The smart coaches and parents supply food that will start refilling muscles with carbohydrates at just that time.
A proper supply of carbohydrates is needed. It can come from a carbohydrate replenishment drink or other foods like bagels with jelly, pretzels, raisins or other dried fruit. This is even more critical between tournament games when the time between games is even shorter.
Myth 3: A diet is good as long as an athlete gets enough protein.
While most every survey of the athletic diet shows that players get all the protein they need from food, there is a problem. The vast majority of protein is consumed in conjunction with fat.
Marbled meat, ground beef, and fried chicken all are examples of protein that is combined with lots of fat. Red meat should be trimmed of fat, and ground beef should be very lean. Chicken should have the skin removed before cooking.
One place protein isn’t commonly found is the immediate post-exercise meal. A little protein helps in storing new fuel in the muscles faster than when there is no protein. Players can try to figure out a protein source after the game or drink a carbohydrate replenishment drink that contains protein.
Myth 4: Your body is the best indicator of when to drink; Mother Nature knows best.
For most mammals, it is OK not to drink until thirsty. However, the thirst mechanism of humans operates differently than the average mammal. In fact, the human thirst mechanism doesn’t even kick in until a person has lost about two percent of body weight from sweating. At this level, a decrease in performance begins to become evident.
Players should drink before starting the game, every 15-20 minutes during play if possible, and at halftime. Make sure the team has drink bottles along both sidelines and in the goals so players have easy access to fluids during stoppages of play. Don’t forget that playing in the cold is also dehydrating, so drinking fluids is just as important in cold weather.
Overall, it is important for the well-rounded player to keep an eye on what they eat and drink in order to get results on the field. For more information on nutrition in soccer, check out the Resource Center archives on the Services page of ussoccer.com.
Questions can be directed to Hughie O'Malley, U.S. Soccer's Manager of Sports Medicine Administration. Hughie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (312) 528-1225.
Carbs Equals Fuel for Soccer Players!
The high-intensity, anaerobic exercise that soccer demands can rapidly deplete the body's stores of carbohydrate (strored as "glycogen" primarily in the muscles and the liver). With all the attention that low-carbohydrate diets are currently receiving in the media, it seems that "carbs" have taken on a negative connotation and are really getting a bad rap. For soccer athletes, carbohydrates are the fuel that is burned and without it, performance and endurance will suffer. Complex carbohydrates are the fuel of choice. They will supply energy over a longer period of time and help restore depleted glycogen stores. Simple sugars are not the fuel of choice since they are rapidly burned and increase insulin levels, which can cause a rebound effect and actually lower blood sugar and cause hypoglycemia.
Soccer players should consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates both before and after play and as part of a balanced diet. Complex carbohydrate snacks that are easily digestible can actually improve performance and stamina and can help to "re-fuel" a soccer athlete after a match. The amount of carbohydrate needed by an athlete is individual and depends on the intensity, frequency, and the duration of exercise, the level of fitness, and the body weight. A high quality sports diet should include at least 60% of total daily calories from carbohydrates. Of that amount, no more than 10% should come from refined sugars, and the other 50% should come from complex, nutrient-rich carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and starches (pasta, rice, cereal, bread, potatoes).
Examples of complex carbohydrate snacks include the following:
- 1/2 plain bagel (120 calories)
- medium banana (109 calories)
- 1/4 peanut butter and jelly sandwich (85 calories)
- 1/2 soft pretzel (85 calories)
- average apple (80 calories)
"Carbs" are like high-octane fuel for soccer athletes, so be sure to re-fuel and keep your soccer machine from running on empty!