This One’s for the Parents

At the risk of being a fire starter (who am I kidding? I love to start fires), I feel the need to address a growing problem that is making itself painfully evident.

If you are the parent of a youth involved in any sport, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your athlete is properly fueled for practices and games!!!!!!!!!!!

I wish I could just assume that line is sufficient, but I have witnessed nutrition deficiencies that tell me we still don’t get it…..

Younger athletes are different from weekend warriors and gym rats. Children, age 5-16, who participate in sports need to be properly fueled. This means that they need plenty of water, not a Route 44 of choice from Sonic people! Corn chips, french fries and handy wrapped sweets are not considered fuel either. End of story. Youth are more prone to dehydration and improper fuel utilization especially if they are not sent out on the field, or court, with the advantage of proper nutrition. It’s really not that hard, but it’s something most parents simply don’t think about.

I was helping to coach my daughter’s soccer team last night. Practice is from 5-6 p.m. and her team is girls from 5th-6th grade. Most of the girls showed up sleepy and lacking energy, a sure sign of dehydration. Several made comments that they were hungry. Do you know what happens when you work out in a state of dehydration and hunger? Catabolism. It’s about as much fun as it sounds. The body, in its search for energy, will slowly start to shut down essential organs, such as the liver and digestive system (hello stomach pain while running!), and pull from the nearest source: muscles. Sending your child to practice without proper hydration and fuel means that their body will turn and begin to break down its own muscle tissue, essentially eating itself. How’s that for love? Not too good.

I get that we are ALL busy. I’m working from the time I wake until I hit the pillow and I’m usually driving between classes and clients, but I assure you my athletes are always well prepared. How can you fuel your athlete and ensure that they are safe and well hydrated for practice and games? Here are a few of my tricks:

  • Send water for lunch or make sure they drink water at home. Schools offer fountains, but it’s rare that kids (especially junior high and high school) have the time to get in enough water. Pack a bottle of water and encourage your youth to drink it at lunch. “But they don’t like water”. This is a fight you need to pick. Don’t be a wimpy parent and then have to explain to your child that the reason why they passed out on the field and now have to be hospitalized is because you didn’t want to utilize your parental rights. Drink water.
  • Make sure they have water AND an electrolyte beverage for long practices and games. Both my kids always have a bottle of water for during games and one for after. You can also send a G2 or Powerade (low sugar) mixed with water. These are particularly important if it’s extremely hot or they have to wear a lot of equipment (i.e. football pads).
  • Make sure they have some pre-game/practice fuel. You don’t want them practicing on a full stomach, so these are things that are easy to stuff and store. A handful of almonds and an apple, a banana and a piece of toast, some granola and apple juice or even a low sugar protein smoothie (if you have time to make it). If you pick your athlete up and head to practice directly following work, consider planning ahead and packing the snack(s) in a cooler for later. It should take less than 2 minutes and the payoff is phenomenal.
  • Provide healthy snacks for the team. When we’re in charge of snacks we always bring water, bananas and oranges (since post-game is the best time to get natural sugars in to replenish the muscle glycogen that will store from the meal that follows), pretzels or trail mix and maybe a little dark chocolate as a treat. Mounds of processed foods will do nothing but make athletes cranky and sleepy. Skip the Cheezits and head for the produce.
  • Make sure they have a good meal following the practice/game. It doesn’t have to be a 4 course meal. Just make sure they get proteins and carbs to rebuild the muscle. Spaghetti and meat sauce, chicken with rice and veggies, potatoes with chicken and salad, etc. are all great options and easy to make before hand.
  • Keep the items you need on hand. I buy protein bars for my son since he does a lot of after school athletics. I simply send them in his lunch OR he can throw them in his binder.
  • In special situations I do use electrolyte and/or carbohydrate blocks. You can find these at the local sporting goods store or health food store. These blocks contain electrolytes and often fast digesting carbs. They are small and easy to digest, BUT you have to drink plenty of water. Since the schools love to believe it’s totally fine to deprive children of water and fuel, I make sure my son has these tucked away for pre-game/practice. They are small enough to have in his pocket and something he can chew up while dressing out.

The bottom line here is don’t depend on somebody else to fuel your kid. If we would just commit to up the water and lower the sugar, we may wake up to different kids as both dehydration and excessive sugar can contribute to changes in personality and temperance. Fuel your athlete for success and you won’t regret the small amount of extra time you have to spend. Take the accountability and make sure you explain this to your children. This way they can have a say in the healthy snacks which can lead to better adherence. It’s never too early to start living healthy!




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