Children have varied nutritional needs and it is just normal for parents to be concerned, whether a child is getting enough nutrients based on his developmental stage. If you are wondering whether your active child is getting enough nutrients, you only need to base his needs on the food pyramid. The nutritional needs of a child involved in sports, may not be too different from other children of the same age. The important thing is for parents to ensure that a child is eating healthy well-balanced meals each day.

The nutritional needs of an active child may only differ, if he is involved in strenuous endurance sports. Typically, if the activity can last more than 1 ½ to 2 hours at a time, a child may need to consume more to be able to function optimally. In cases when your child may be advised by his coach or his trainer to lose or gain weight, it is best to begin by consulting your doctor. Your doctor may do a referral when necessary, so that your child can attain his ideal weight in a healthy manner.

Young athletes may be pressured to take on unhealthy eating habits, so they can attain their ideal weight. If a child eats less than what is really necessary, he may have diminished strength and endurance. He may also have difficulty concentrating on the task ahead. On the contrary, children who eat more than what they need may gain weight, which may also affect his physical fitness. Thus, it is important for parents to provide the right balance of nutrients from all the food groups.

It may also help if parents know essential nutrients needed by young athletes:

Calcium – Young athletes need calcium because it helps build strong bones. The major contributors of calcium in the typical diet of Americans are milk, yogurt and cheese. Other foods that contain calcium are Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli, and other calcium fortified foods like juices and cereals.

Iron – Iron plays an important role in oxygen transport. In iron deficiency states, delivery of oxygen to the cells may be limited, which can result to fatigue and poor performance. Foods rich in iron include chicken, red meat, green leafy vegetables, eggs, and whole grains.

Carbohydrates – Young athletes need carbohydrates because it is an ideal source of energy for the body. It provides the body with fuel needed for physical activity and proper organ function. Choose the best sources of carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans.

Protein – Protein is needed by the body to build and maintain bones and muscles. However, regular exercise is still necessary to build strong muscles. Examples of protein rich foods include fish, poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts and soy products.

These nutrients are essential to maintain a healthy body, but appropriate servings need to be based on the recommended dietary guidelines for children. It is also important to know the right time to serve your child a meal before a game. It is ideal to have your child eat 3 hours or more before the game. The meal should be low in fat because it takes longer to digest. High-fiber foods are also not recommended because it can cause an upset stomach. If your child eats less than 3 hours before the game, serve a lighter meal.

Aside from the right nutrients, parents should ensure that a child is well-hydrated. Thirst should never be used as an indicator of a child’s hydration status. Encourage your child to drink fluids every 15 to 20 minutes during the physical activity. While there are many sports drinks available, water is usually enough to replenish lost fluids. Sports drinks contain electrolytes, which may be a good choice if a child has been active for more than an hour.

At some point, your child will get involved with sports. Always remember that eating healthy is important, so that your child can maintain optimal functioning. Help your child keep his body healthy, in order to ensure that he keeps on playing his sport of choice.