Proper nutrition is vital for children of any age, but for children who are still growing and developing, the importance of maintaining overall health can never be overemphasized. Balanced nutrition that includes proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is a must and each of these food groups plays a vital role in meeting your child’s dietary needs. This is particularly true when children are very active or little athletes.
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Fats and Carbohydrates: What’s the Story?
Both fats and carbohydrates are key to a child’s balanced diet. Carbs are the primary source of energy for prolonged and very intense physical activity.
Dietary fats provide energy for lower-intensity physical activity. They also contribute to supporting the body’s immune system and maintaining hormone balance. Fats also provide phytonutrients, and fatty acids, and facilitate the body’s absorption of vitamins.
When preparing a balanced meal for your children, fats and carbs are equally as vital as protein for overall health.
Why Protein Is So Important for your Child’s health
Dietary protein brings many benefits to the human body but its role in muscle tissue repair is very significant for athletes. Athletes expose their muscles to continuous wear and tear, so repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue is an ongoing necessity.
Protein does not only benefit muscle repair, but it also works to support bones, vital organs, and tissues. It has a vital role in the construction of antibodies and enzymes that fuel metabolic health and the immune system.
Another plus for active children is that protein helps us to feel full and satiated between meals. High-protein snacks can be very useful for children after a training practice.
Essential Amino Acids
Protein consists of building blocks of amino acids. Twenty varied amino acids support human health, and of these twenty, nine are deemed essential.
Our bodies are unable to create these nine essential amino acids so they must be acquired from dietary sources. This fact alone emphasizes the importance of protein in the human diet.
Does Protein Provide Energy?
A child’s primary sources of energy will be fats and carbohydrates but should supplies of these nutrients run low or exhaust themselves, the body will switch to using its protein reserves to fuel basic body functions and physical activities. When this happens, the human body breaks down muscle tissue so that it can use amino acids as fuel.
This can be detrimental and especially dangerous for children as these amino acids will no longer work to repair and rebuild stressed muscle tissue that is still in development. The result will be that your child will lose some of their muscle and consequently be physically weakened.
Still, protein can make a significant contribution to energy needs. By including protein in meals and offering protein snacks, digestion will slow down, and this will also slow the use of carbohydrates as an energy source.
Slower digestion aids in maintaining blood sugar levels which in turn will maintain energy levels for a longer period compared to a sugary or carbohydrate snack. Carb snacks are known to give an energy rush that is very short-lived.
Animal or Plant Protein: Which Is Better?
Animal-sourced protein includes fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy foods like milk or cheese. Research indicates that the body is more efficient in the use of animal proteins which also contain the nine essential amino acids.
Plant proteins such as legumes, soy, nuts, vegetables, fruits, etc. when consumed alone do not contain all nine essential amino acids, but if several are consumed together, protein requirements can be met.
How Much Protein Should an Active Child Consume?
Research data is generally limited to athletes’ needs. It would be safe to assume that young athletes, despite age, require more dietary protein than children not involved in sports. Individual needs will vary greatly when age and actual physical activities are factored in.
Vegan households or low-calorie diets can challenge children with getting their protein needs met. Weekly diets should include a variety of protein sources as well as carbohydrates and fats for balanced nutrition. Children may also benefit from a protein snack such as a filling and delicious milkshake made with protein powder for kids after a workout to benefit muscle repair.
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Protein Is Important for Young Athletes
Protein and the amino acids it provides are essential for the human body’s general health, hence for young atheletes, too. Nonetheless, protein works best when consumed together with fats and carbohydrates, so it should not be prioritized alone. Your child must consume enough protein but within the context of a well-balanced diet. The excessive intake of large amounts of protein at the expense of other macronutrients can have negative effects.
If you have doubts, consult your child’s pediatrician or a dietician nutritionist to support all physical and health requirements for your child.