Healthy Tips for Active Soccer Players
The Athlete's Kitchen
Sections written by Nancy Clark, MS, RD Senior Sports Nutritionist, Healthworks Fitness Center
If you are the parent of an athletic child, you may wonder if young athletes have special nutritional needs. Or, are they just small grown-ups who can follow the same sports nutrition program as adults? These following questions address some of the nutrition concerns parents ask about fueling their active, growing children.
Q: What should my child eat before a game? (from US Soccer Players Assoc.)
Although kids should not eat too much right before playing, it is important that young players eat a standard-sized healthy meal before a game. Avoid highly fatty foods and encourage young players to drink lots of liquids with their pre-game meals.
Many players and coaches favor foods that have lots of carbohydrates, including pasta, cereals, bread, and vegetables. Players should have adequate time to digest their food, at least one hour before they need to arrive at the field.
Q: What should we bring for snacks? (from US Soccer Players Assoc.)
For halftime, some excellent low-fat energy sources are oranges and watermelon. Cut the fruit into chunks to make it easier for the players to consume during halftime.
At halftime, however, avoid high-fat foods because fats exit the stomach slowly and may cause cramping during games.
After the game, you may want to congratulate the players with special treats such as granola bars, cookies, brownies, etc. There is a wide range of foods appropriate for end-of-the-game snacks. It's also nice to provide a fruit drink.
Q: Does my third grade daughter really need a sports drink after her soccer game? (from US Soccer Players Assoc.)
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 lasting 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 athletes who exercise 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 gland produces about 40% less sweat than an adult's.) This means: Drink frequently during exercise to prevent dehydration!