4 Essential Food Groups in Young Athletes’ Diets

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Athletes train hard to enhance their technical and tactical performance. But there are other “invisible” aspects that they need to work on to reach their full potential, like mental toughness, good rest, and healthy food.

A well-balanced diet is essential for growing athletes or children involved in sports to maintain proper growth and optimize performance. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, 4 food groups can’t miss in their diets.

  1. Protein-rich food: Protein helps repair and strengthen muscle tissue. This group includes fish, lean meat and poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts, and soy products.    
  2. Carbohydrates: Carbs are vital as they provide energy and are the primary source of fuel for a young athlete’s body. Without carbs in their diet, kids will be running on empty. Examples of healthy carbohydrates include black beans, potatoes, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, oats, and brown rice.   
  3. Fiber-rich food: Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of fiber, which is very important for digestive and cardiovascular health, the immune system, and proper weight management. Include all kinds of vegetables and fruits in your diet to incorporate a variety of vitamins and minerals.   
  4. Healthy fat: Fat is necessary for athletes to get the energy they need to perform at their best. Eating foods that contain healthy fat is one way for athletes to meet their energy needs and improve performance. Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, canola oil, and fatty fish like salmon.

What about vitamins and minerals?

Calcium and iron are two very important nutrients for athletes. 

Calcium helps build strong bones to resist breaking, including stress fractures. Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) are rich sources of calcium. Green vegetables like spinach and broccoli are good sources of calcium too. 

Iron is key to carrying oxygen to all the different parts of the body when needed. For healthy growth, children and teens need more iron in their diet. Foods rich in iron include lean meat, poultry, tuna fish and salmon, eggs, dehydrated fruits, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains.  

Healthy fats, besides being a source of energy, are very important to help with the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

Don’t forget water!

Water, more than any other fluid, is essential for athletic performance and physical activity, as it prevents dehydration and maintains body temperature. It is recommended that athletes drink water not only before a training session or a match but also after exercise to replace the fluid lost from sweating. 

Did you know that when you feel thirsty your body is already dehydrated? That’s why it is recommended to drink water every 15 to 20 minutes because your body may need hydration even though you’re not thirsty.  

If your kids are involved in sports, you should certainly want to supervise what they include in their diet and make sure that they are feeding their bodies properly.

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