As a parent, have you wondered if your active child is getting all the nutrients they need to fuel their growing body? Whether your child participates in sports every day or is resting at home, providing them with the right food will nourish their bodies and promote growth. Focusing on essential nutrients in these foods can help them perform well in daily activities and promote overall physical health. In this article, you will learn about the macro and micronutrients essential for your active child’s growth and where you can find them in the diet.
The protein found in the diet is essential for an active and growing body—this macronutrient aids in muscle and tissue recovery, especially when consumed after exercise. Most children will get enough protein from a balanced diet, but it is important to pay attention to high-quality protein sources in the diet of active children. Some protein-rich foods include lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products or dairy substitute products, beans, nuts and seeds, and soy products. It is also imperative to know how much protein your child needs to meet their daily requirements.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the body; this nutrient is especially important to consider when it comes to an active child. For young athletes, this macronutrient is a vital source of fuel for their body throughout their training and active days. When it comes to choosing carbohydrates sources, you want to make sure your child is getting the most nutrition out of these choices. Look for carb choices that are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Some good options of these carbs include starchy vegetables, legumes, whole fruits, and whole grains. Include regular carbohydrate-rich foods in your child’s diet to meet the additional energy requirements needed for exercise to ensure adequate energy for their active lifestyle.
A small amount of fat in your child’s diet is an important macronutrient for growth and development. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, omega-6, and omega-3, which the body cannot make itself. These types of fats are essential for the brain and nervous system as well as in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E. The best sources of these oils in the diet are fish such as sardines, mackerel, and fresh tuna. If your child does not eat fish, you can provide these essential fatty acids with canola and flaxseed oil, soy-based foods such as tofu, chia seeds, and walnuts. If consumed throughout the week, these should offer sufficient essential fatty acids in your child’s diet.
Calcium & Vitamin D
These two micronutrients are important minerals for an active child. Calcium aids in building strong bones, which is crucial in preventing breaks or fractures and enables the blood to clot, the muscles to contract, and the heart to beat. The body cannot produce its own calcium, so it is important to get enough calcium from our diet or supplementation. A few calcium-rich foods to include in your child’s diet include low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified dairy-alternative products, and leafy green vegetables such as broccoli or spinach. Along with calcium, vitamin D is an essential part of bone protection in the body. This nutrient helps the body absorb calcium and is essential for children in building strong bones as they grow. You can find vitamin D in certain foods and beverages such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, as well as milk and other dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and fortified cereals. In addition to dietary sources, vitamin D supplementation (especially in infants and children) can be an excellent way to ensure that your child meets their daily needs.
Iron & Vitamin C
Iron is a mineral found in both plants and animals; it is an important component in red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the body. Iron allows red blood cells to carry oxygen in the blood; without enough iron, the body struggles to deliver oxygen to tissues and organs in need. Low iron in active children can impede their performance when it comes to sports, so it is important to provide iron-rich foods in their diets. Foods rich in iron include lean meat, chicken, tuna, eggs, dried beans and peas, fortified whole grains, and dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C plays an important role in iron absorption as well. When you combine foods high in iron with foods high in vitamin C, the body will absorb iron more efficiently. Foods rich in vitamin C are citrus fruits, such as oranges, dark green vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. Serving these vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies with iron-rich foods can aid in the proper absorption of these minerals in your child’s body.
For additional information on daily macronutrient requirements for children, please visit MyPlate.gov.