Many parents have asked me how to best feed their young athletes. This is the first in a five-part series on sports nutrition for the young athlete.
Let’s begin by building the foundation to a healthy eating plan. This is important not only for the young athlete, but for every member of your family. And the best plan is modeled after USDA’s MyPlate. (see Choosemyplate.gov for more information). These recommendations include:
Grains: Make HALF your grains WHOLE (3 or more/day). Whole grains are any that contain all three layers of the original nutrient-rich grain: germ, endosperm, and bran. These grains are bought in bulk (like oatmeal, whole wheat flour, brown rice) or in packaged goods with ‘whole’ listed as the first ingredient on a food label (for breads, cereals, and pastas). Check your cereal boxes and sandwich bread labels. Are you eating whole grain? See Understanding Whole Grain for more information.
Fruits & Vegetables: Half your plate (5 or more/day). For best nutrition, eat from all colors of fruits and vegetables. This includes red (like strawberries and beets), yellow/orange (carrots and cantaloupe), green (zucchini and kiwi), and blue/purple (eggplant and blueberries). Check out Veggies & Grains for lots of great recipes!
Dairy: Choose fat-free or low-fat (3/day). Include a fat-free or low-fat dairy food with every meal like milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Not only are dairy products rich in calcium and protein, but for milk and some yogurt, they are often fortified with vitamin D. Please make sure that soda or sports drinks are not replacing milk at a meal. Also, snack time is a great time for consuming dairy. See Smoothies for a dairy-rich snack.
Protein: Go lean– try fish/plant protein (2 or more/week). This food group includes meats like beef, lamb, and pork; poultry like chicken and turkey; legumes (peas, beans, lentils, and soy) and nuts & seeds. Just like all food groups, it is wise to vary our choices. Be intentional about including fish meals and non-meat protein meals a few times each week. MyPlate2Yours has many easy fish recipes archived in ‘Fish’. And see Benefits of Plant Protein for more information and meal ideas.
In reviewing this list, start by picking out a change you want to make, like drinking milk at all meals or buying whole grain bread. Small, deliberate, gradual change works. Once you’ve mastered the first set of changes, move through the list to make more. We can all improve our eating plans and as young athletes who want to do their best and the parents who support them, you are off to a great start!
Up next: Hydration.