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What to Eat Before and After Exercise continued...

Is there any truth to the idea that you should wait for 30 minutes after eating to swim? That depends on the child. Some kids can tolerate eating before swimming for recreation at a pool or beach. But, Dulan says, kids on swim teams may not want to eat heavy meals before practice or a meet, because it could lead to an upset stomach and affect their performance.

“After a workout or game, athletes should refuel within 30 minutes of exercise to replace losses and get ready for the next time they exercise, Dulan says. A balanced post-activity snack or meal with carbohydrate, protein, and some healthy fat, along with fluid to replace losses, is a wise choice for young athletes.

Fluid Needs During Physical Activity

Fluid helps to cool the body, which is especially important during exercise. In addition, every reaction in the body that allows kids to keep going takes place in a watery environment.

Children need at least this much fluid every day:

  • Ages one to eight: four to five eight-ounce cups
  • Ages nine to 18: eight to 11 eight-ounce cups

Active kids may need more fluid and should be encouraged to drink when they are thirsty. Dulan suggests drinking about eight to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during a game, and drinking more after exercise ends.

All beverages count toward satisfying fluid needs, including water, milk, and 100% fruit juice, but not all beverages are appropriate for kids.

Water Still the Best Choice

Some drinks, such as milk and 100% fruit juice, contribute important nutrients. Others, including soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks, are the source of significant added sugar and may supply unnecessary calories.

Most children fare well with drinking water to quench their thirst, during exercise and otherwise. There’s no need to spend money or calories on sports drinks that promise to provide nutrients necessary for exercise. A balanced diet and adequate water is sufficient.

According to Clark, sports drinks are meant for more than one hour of continuous vigorous exercise, and most kids probably don’t need them. “Sports drinks are mass marketed to everybody, but not everybody is an athlete,” she says. 

A 2011 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids skip sports drinks and rely on water and low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk to replace lost fluid. Drinking milk at meals and snacks is also one of the messages of MyPlate, the government’s new food guidance system.

Milk is a source of nine essential nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which often come up short in a child’s diet. In addition, milk provides protein, and is considered a beneficial recovery drink after exercise. Children ages two to three years need 2 cups of milk daily; four to eight year olds require 2 ½ cups; and everyone nine and older should include three cups of milk daily.