Fueling Up at Sports Camp
By Rhonda Aronwald
The right foods can keep your kids energized throughout the day.
With more and more kids tipping the scales at unhealthy weights, sending your children to sports camp is a great way to teach them to enjoy exercise and develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Plenty of research has shown that physical activity is one of the best pathways to a long and healthy life. Exercise can lower a child's chances of developing chronic health conditions later in life while improving heart health, lung capacity, and muscle and bone strength.
To get the most out of sports camps, kids also need to consume the right kinds of foods to maintain their energy and replace spent calories. While they may ask you to include things like chips and cookies in their lunches, those aren't the foods that will give them sustained energy.
"Kids attending sports camps need to eat a balanced diet throughout the week that contains carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals from whole foods," says Group Health Medical Centers dietitian Kristy Swanson, RD.
While at camp, the types of food and the calories your camper will need will vary throughout the day. During more intense activity, such as a soccer match, easily digested sports drinks or gels are a good choice. Look for those that don't have caffeine. During more moderate activity — light drills or warm-ups — a fig bar or apple slices will give the right boost.
"Larger meals and foods high in fiber, fat, and protein, which are harder to digest, may cause gastrointestinal distress for some kids if they're eaten close to sports activity," says Swanson. "Kids and parents should experiment to see what kinds and how much food keeps campers feeling energetic all day."
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. "Water is the most important nutrient for athletes," says Michael Morris, operations assistant for Seattle Sounders FC Soccer Camps, which are sponsored by Group Health. "We tell kids to drink before they are thirsty, sipping instead of gulping their drinks."
After the first 60 minutes of exercise, Swanson recommends supplementing water with a sports drink or diluted fruit juice to help replace carbohydrates. "Beverages containing between 6 and 8 percent carbohydrates — 4 to 19 grams total carbohydrates per 8 ounces of fluid — are good for prolonged activity. Diluted juice should be equal parts water and juice. Sports drinks have an advantage of added electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, which is lost in sweat."
The more intense the camp activity, the more hydration your child will need. Your child may also need to drink more if he or she is spending a big chunk of the day under the hot sun.
Refueling for the next day. Keep your kids energized throughout the day. Consuming both protein and carbs — contained in low-fat chocolate milk, for example — immediately or within two hours after exercise helps the body replenish muscle glycogen (sugar stored in the muscles that give energy) and helps build and repair muscle. And don't forget to feed your young athletes a well-rounded dinner of carbohydrates, lean protein, and fruits or vegetables to prepare them for the next day.