Fitness Facts: Nutrition for active kids

By Emily Orvos
GCU Campus Registered Dietitian

July 20-26 was a week showcasing the National Youth Sports Strategy. This movement encourages sports participation in children – especially underserved populations in kids, such as girls, kids with disabilities, and kids growing up in homes with low socioeconomic status.

Physical activity is crucial for kids because their exercise needs are actually higher than adults. Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and sports are a great way to help meet this goal.

Along with physical activity, proper nutrition is also crucial for kids, and young athletes are no exception. Bone density develops during childhood, with most bone accrual occurring during early puberty. Because of this, calcium and Vitamin D are important nutrients to look out for in your kids’ diets – they work together to support bone formation.

Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are the best sources of calcium. If your child has a dairy or milk allergy, soy alternatives (such as soy milk and tofu) are most nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk. Leafy green veggies, such as spinach, kale and collard greens, also provide some calcium.

As for Vitamin D, dietary sources are relatively limited – sunlight actually provides the majority of the Vitamin D our bodies need. If your kids are playing outside for at least 30 minutes most days, they are likely meeting their Vitamin D needs.

Salmon, mushrooms, and egg yolks are good food sources of Vitamin D, along with fortified dairy products, breakfast cereals and some orange juices.

Another nutrient that supports active children is iron. Iron is important for making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

Any meat protein (especially red meats, such as beef or pork) is a good source of iron. So are beans and legumes, whole grains and leafy green veggies.

Vitamin C, found mostly in fruits and some veggies, helps the body absorb iron more effectively. Beef jerky and a couple of clementines could be a great post-practice snack that is rich in iron and Vitamin C.

Finally, be sure your kids are staying hydrated while they’re out playing. Kids’ bodies are not as effective at staying cool as adults’ bodies, so water is extra important for preventing dehydration and heat exhaustion. Be sure to pack a full water bottle for your kids’ practices, and encourage them to drink it throughout.

Kids participating in sports is a great way to teach them the importance of physical activity but also the importance of fueling their bodies properly!

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