In 2013 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an article from Pediatrics and Child Health titled, “Sport Nutrition for Young Athletes.” Keep in mind that 2013 was around the time of peak federal investment in youth nutrition and exercise, but the NIH is not likely to share non-peer reviewed or scientifically unvalidated information. This article, albeit a few years old, is a great source of information on what kids who are actively involved in sports need in order to be healthy and perform at their peak, especially when they play a game like basketball that keeps them moving so much in such a concentrated period of time.

Youth Athlete Nutrition

Because the information is so straightforward and concisely compiled, we have decided to share a significant portion of it with you and are following that up with our 3 favorite snacks for youth basketball players.

Basic nutrition is important for growth, achieving good health and scholastic achievement, and providing energy. Sports nutrition enhances athletic performance by decreasing fatigue and the risk of disease and injury; it also enables athletes to optimize training and recover faster. Balancing energy intake with energy expenditure is crucial to prevent an energy deficit or excess. Energy deficits can cause short stature, delayed puberty, menstrual dysfunction, loss of muscle mass and increased susceptibility for fatigue, injury or illness. Energy excess can result in overweight and obesity.

Before puberty, minimum nutritional and energy requirements (caloric needs) are similar for boys and girls. Energy requirements for adolescents are more variable, depending on age, activity level, growth rate and stage of physical maturity. These recommended energy allowances are the minimum necessary to ensure proper growth and bodily functions. Extra calories are needed during growth spurts and to replenish energy expended during athletic endeavours

Macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, protein and fats, provide the fuel for physical activity and sports participation… Although there are many vitamins and minerals required for good health, particular attention should be devoted to ensuring that athletes consume proper amounts of [micronutrients] calcium, vitamin D and iron...

Fluids, particularly water, are important nutrients for athletes. Athletic performance can be affected by what, how much and when an athlete drinks. Fluids help to regulate body temperature and replace sweat losses during exercise. Environmental temperature and humidity can affect how much an athlete sweats and how much fluid intake is required. Hotter temperatures and higher humidity make a person sweat more, and more fluid is needed to maintain hydration. Dehydration can decrease performance and put athletes at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.. Proper hydration requires fluid intake before, during and after exercise or activity.

How the Pros Eat

If you have any doubts about the wisdom of the federal government’s take on nutrition, think about the way that basketball pros keep themselves at the top of their games. peeked inside the dietary habits of 5 of the best professional players in the sport and what they found completely agrees. “One of the major factors that determine whether you'll become a good player or a great one is your diet.” Their recommendations are that all athletes who want to perform need to adhere to both a great nutrition plan and a great exercise plan. Those diets include the following:

  • Protein with all meals
  • Intentional carbohydrate intake based on their daily work-out
  • Supplements are not used as a replacement for good food
  • Breakfast is crucial
  • All meals are put together with a purpose in mind

Healthy Snack Ideas

Most kids don’t have the discipline or the resources to adhere to a professional athlete’s diet and exercise routine, but all of them can point their caloric intake in this general direction. This is especially true when it comes to snacking. Adults do not need to snack the same way that kids do. In fact, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Snacks are good for kids because they help them stay focused at school and on homework, give them needed nutrients and keep hunger at bay.” However, they remind us, “To lots of kids and teens, a snack is a bag of chips, some cookies or some other low-nutrient food. Instead, think of snacks as mini-meals… Younger kids need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day. Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day (they may need two snacks if they're going through a growth spurt or if they are very physically active).”

To help your youth athletes snack well and be on their game, we recommend the following (taking into account any food allergies):

  • Greek yogurt with blueberries
  • Whole grain bread with natural peanut, almond, or cashew butter made with honey and sliced bananas (or for those with nut allergies hummus and sliced vegetables)
  • Water infused with lemon, cucumber and mint

These foods pack a nutritional wallop. They have protein, vitamins and minerals and have power to provide enough energy to growing kids that need to get through practice or a game. The infused water is healthier than sports drinks, sugary juice or soda and tastes refreshing.

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