Nutrition important for young athletes on the go
It is that time of the year again. The nights are getting cooler as the children head back to school. And of course, the kid’s hockey season is just revving up. I’m looking forward to watching my boys play hockey and to cheering on their teams. Aside from the cold arenas, one of the aspects that have been the most challenging for me is providing my boys, aged 9 and 15, with drinks and snacks that will help them to perform at their best, and more importantly, that they like. Even as a certified nutritionist it has taken time and lots of trial and error to get it right in my household.
Hydration is an important part of games and practices that is easily overlooked. In fact, by the time your child feels thirsty they are already dehydrated, and this can affect their performance by as much as 20 per cent. So drinking plenty of pure water before, during and after ice time is important. Pop and energy drinks are not a good alternative (although the kids would argue otherwise). Loaded with sugar and caffeine, they are simply not needed. When these drinks are consumed before ice time they can spike your child’s blood sugar levels, causing a sugar crash that may hinder their stamina. Sports drinks such as Gatorade are designed to replace electrolytes lost during intense activity usually lasting more than an hour. However they contain unwanted chemicals and artificial food colour that, some research suggests, can create potential health risks. Bottom line, water is the best choice.
After an intense workout pure coconut water mixed with fruit juice makes a fantastic alternative. It contains needed minerals, carbohydrates and no food colouring. Better yet, make your own sports drink by adding 1/3 cup of pure maple syrup, 1⁄4 teaspoon of Himalayan salt and the juice of two lemons to four cups of water.
Nutritious snacks are also crucial to provide needed energy and endurance. The best choices include complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and good quality fats. Snack ideas include whole grain pitas, bagels or rice cakes topped with nut or seed butters and sliced banana or apple. Muffins, beans, whole grain pasta, hard boiled eggs, fruits or chopped vegetables also work well. Raw nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower, pumpkin or hemp seeds provide energy and offer Omega 3 and 6 fats which help maintain overall health.
Coconut oil is one of my favourite food items, with amazing health benefits and versatility. This medium chain triglyceride is great for the budding athlete. It is easily digested, boosts the immune system and provides a fabulous source of energy. It can replace other oils in most baked goods such as muffins, breads and cookies, and can also be added to smoothies or used to pop popcorn.
Smoothies are another super after-school and pre-game snack. Easy to prepare and nutrient-dense, they are an excellent option. There are many smoothie ideas online but for my personal recipe, I suggest blending a cup of unsweetened almond or rice milk, 1/2 of a banana, 1⁄2 cup of frozen fruit such as berries, mango or pineapple, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil, 1⁄4 of an avocado, 1⁄2 cup of pure coconut water and ice. You can also add in a protein source such as 1 tablespoon hemp seeds, nut butter or protein powder (Sun Warrior is my favourite). Chia, cucumber, spinach and cacao are also great nutritious additions. The options are endless and you would be surprised what healthy foods you can hide in a smoothie! Best of all kids can tweak their drinks to their personal taste.
We’ve all had those after-school games and practices that have you racing to an arena. On those crazy days it helps to keep a bag of snacks handy in your car, such as trail mix, granola, whole grain rice cakes, almonds, seeds or fruit and nut bars (Taste of Nature makes a good one). Add a piece of fruit or veggies and you are set – it sure beats a pit stop at a drive-through. However, if time allows for a home meal it is a good idea to have your child eat at least one hour before ice time and try to avoid or limit fried foods, as these can slow digestion and hinder performance.
So another hockey season begins. Although you cannot control the outcome of the games, you can greatly enhance your child’s personal performance through healthy food and drink choices. Have a great season, and watch for future columns where I will explore many other aspects of nutrition and well-being.
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