Help Young Athletes Perform Their Best with Tips from a Registered Dietitian

Written by admin, May 10, 2016

May 10, 2016 – The start of summer sports often has parents of active kids asking about proper hydration and sport nutrition.

“For light to moderate activities lasting 90 minutes or less, or high-intensity activities of an hour or less, water is the best choice for everyone, especially young children,” says Luisa Magalhaes, registered dietitian with Peterborough Public Health.

It is important to drink fluids before the activity to prevent dehydration, muscle cramp, and fatigue.

“Sometimes it can be tough to get kids to drink water.  Try adding a handful of frozen berries, a slice of orange, cucumber or fresh mint to the water to give flavour without any added sugar,” says Magalhaes. “Offer vegetables and fruit high in water before and after the activity. Cucumber, celery, watermelon, oranges and grapes are great choices.”

Magalhaes recommends that children and recreational athletes of any age avoid sports drinks.

“Kids playing a one-hour soccer or hockey game, or a 90-minute baseball game do not need a sports drink.  In this case, a sports drink only adds extra sugar to the diet and does not impact performance.”  She notes that to maintain energy levels, a small healthy snack and water before the event will have the same effect as a sports drink. “Fruit juice or fruit beverages, pop, energy drinks and caffeinated drinks, including iced tea, are all high in sugar. They are harder to absorb and can cause an upset stomach during the activity.”

Healthy meals and snacks fuel our athletes.  Their timing can affect how children enjoy and perform in sports. Magalhaes recommends that meals include foods from all four food groups, and that snacks include foods from at least two food groups.  Carbohydrates such as grains, vegetables, fruit, milk and yogurt give athletes energy.  Milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, eggs, nuts, fish, and beans give children protein to build and repair their muscles.

Magalhaes suggests feeding active children in the following ways:

(1) Pre-Game: Three hours before an activity, children should eat a larger meal.  If time is tight, eat a meal 2 hours beforehand, with less food from each food group, or grab a healthy snack an hour before the game or practice. Avoid fried foods.  These are difficult to digest and can leave a player feeling sluggish.  Healthy choices include cereal with fruit and milk, vegetables, pita wedges and hummus, cheese and bagel, and a fruit and yogurt smoothie.

(2) Mid-Game: Most children in sports do not need a snack during a game or practice. Kids should arrive with enough stored energy to get them through the activity.  Athletes need fluids during the game.  Offer water.  If you do offer a snack, give vegetables and fruit high in water.  Sugary and/or fatty foods, like freezies, popsicles, doughnuts and cookies are not suitable choices.

(3) Post-Game: Within 30 minutes after the activity, drink plenty of fluids and eat a healthy meal or snack to reload energy. Offer water, white or chocolate milk, or 100% fruit juice. Snacks can include whole grain crackers with peanut butter, yogurt with fruit, and trail mix made with cereal, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

For credible nutrition information for you and your family, or for more details on sports nutrition, talk to a registered dietitian for free.  Call 1-877-510-5102 or visit


For further information, please contact:
Luisa Magalhaes, RD
Public Health Nutritionist
705-743-1000, ext. 233