Power Up the Athlete

Download the Power Up for Sports and Health Toolkit to learn about messages that sports teams can incorporate for their athletic teams from the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative.

Kids need to think about eating to perform optimally for sports. Often by appealing to a child’s desire to perform well in sports, parents may be able to encourage them to make healthy food choices. Nutrition does not work overnight miracles in improving athletic performance, but may enhance general health and help fuel muscles. Here are a few principles about athletic performance:

  • Water, water. One of the most important nutrients to focus on is water. The body is made up 60-70% water. If you wait until you are thirsty, you have waited too long. To calculate the approximate daily requirements for water for a young child, divide their body weight by two thirds. So a child weighing 30 pounds, they should get about 20 ounces of water a day.  For a child over 10 or 12 years old, they will need about 1/2 their body weight in ounces of fluids.  So a child who weighs 100 pounds, they need about 50 ounces of fluids a day.  This number is the minimum number of ounces of water they need for the body to function properly. If it is hot or they are performing in a sports activity, they will need more water. An hour or two before their competition, they should drink 8 -16 ounces of water and then another 8-16 ounces of water 10-15 minutes before their activity. Dehydration, even a mild dehydration can decrease performance. The body absorbs cold water better than warm water and it also helps to cool the body.
  • Sport drinks. Most sport drinks (like Gatorade) contain simple carbohydrates and the listed ingredients are typically sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Complex carbohydrate sport drinks contain glucose polymers or maldextrins. Water is still the best replacement fluid for most athletes. Sport drinks may be beneficial for young athletes in endurance sports (more than 90 minutes of activity) in replenishing carbohydrates. These drinks should contain less than about 15 grams of carbohydrate per cup. If they contain more, they should be diluted. Too much carbohydrate intake in the fluids can cause stomach cramps. Avoid caffeinated beverages and sodas.
  • General diet. The days before a competitive event, children should eat a regular balanced diet. A variety of foods daily with 55-60% of calories from carbohydrates is ideal.
  • Pre-game food. Complex carbohydrates 1 to 4 hours before an athletic event is ideal. These foods are broken down quickly and provide glucose to the muscles. Your child can eat a larger meal if it is 4 hours before the exercise and offer a smaller meal if it is only 1 hour before the exercise. Choose foods that they are used to eating. Complex carbohydrate suggestions: low-sugar cereal, oatmeal, pasta, rice, sweet potato, and whole grain bread, bagel or muffin.
  • Snacks after the game. Eating after a sporting event with snack foods is a common event. Let’s look at the problem of snacks provided after team games by the parents. Many of us are familiar with that obligation of being assigned to bring snacks for the kids after the soccer game or baseball game. A problem that I see is that here we have supported and encouraged physical activity for our children and then we offer unhealthy food choices like doughnuts or cookies after the event. If the parents of the team can agree ahead of time that healthier choices are what the team would like, we could teach our kids that we support their sports and support their bodies with healthier food choices.

Some suggestions for healthier sporting snacks:

Instead of… Try these….
Chips Pretzels, Kashi TLC Granola Bars, sunflower seeds
Sugary juices, soda Water (bring some lemon, lime or orange slices to add to the water), 100% fruit juice
Fruit roll-ups Fresh fruit: slices of oranges, watermelon, apples; dried fruit; frozen grapes; Lara Bars (Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Lemon Bar)
Doughnuts Bagels with low-fat cream cheese or peanut or almond butter
Cookies Fig Newmans, oatmeal raisin cookies

Ideal snacks should have:

  • less than 250 calories or less per package
  • No more than 35% of calories from fat with the exception of nuts and seeds
  • No more than 10% of calories from fat
  • No trans fats
  • No more than 35% of the total weight from sugar or caloric sweeteners with the exception of fruits and vegetables
  • Not more than 360 mg of sodium per package

For a PDF file put together by Share the Care in San Diego on Top 25 Vending choices for kids that fit these guidelines, click Top 25 Vending Options