This year when it comes to youth sports, seasons have shifted, practices may look different and competitions may be postponed, all of which have been difficult for kids who simply want to enjoy their time on and off the field, court, rink, mat or pool deck. As parents navigate this new normal for their kids in sports, it’s more important than ever to support their kids’ athletic pursuits while also keeping safety in mind.

“In addition to performance, right now safety in youth sports is so important,” says author and sports nutrition expert Leslie Bonci, nutrition consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs. “Parents want their children to thrive in athletics - whatever that might look like this year - but also want to keep their health and safety in mind, so it’s important to take some proactive steps.”

To help guide parents, Bonci shares her top tips for maintaining a safe and healthy lifestyle for your child no matter their athletic interest:

Prioritize safety steps at home and away

As kids come together in youth sports settings, health and safety are of the utmost importance. Remind them to always wash hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom, blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing. They should also avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. In sports settings, discourage sharing bottles, clean and sanitize them daily with water and liquid household chlorine bleach and eliminate any bulk food or beverages during practice and games, using individually packaged items instead. When they get home from practice, get them in the habit of washing hands again before settling in.

Stay hydrated to fuel the body and focus the mind

Proper hydration is important both on and off the field of play. Rethink their drink and increase electrolyte intake with drinks such as Gatorade Juiced, a juice-based sports drink with a blend of fruit juices and electrolytes for hydration before, during and after physical exertion. It’s the only juice-based sports drink made with no added sugar, no artificial sweeteners or flavors, no colors from artificial sources and adequate electrolytes, as recommended by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, to help replace what athletes lose in sweat.

Create balanced plates and customized meals

A well-balanced diet is essential for growing athletes to maintain proper growth and optimize performance in athletic endeavors. Create a great plate by personalizing your child’s meals based on their individual needs and strategizing to ensure the quality and quantity of their food intake. An ideal diet comprises 45% to 65% carbohydrates, 10% to 30% protein and 25% to 35% fat. For example, brown rice topped with baked chicken breast and a side of roasted carrots would be a wholesome meal. A good dessert could be a vanilla yogurt parfait with berries and granola.

Promote smart snack and drink choices

Stock your fridge and pantry with wholesome choices for growing bodies so kids make smart choices even when you’re not around. Cheese sticks and nut butters are excellent protein sources. Whole-grain crackers can provide a high-quality carbohydrate. Nuts and trail mixes are easy on-the-go options that satisfy hungry bellies. Fluids, like Gatorade Juiced, are very important for maintaining hydration and should be consumed before, during and after athletic events to help kids stay properly hydrated. Stock individual bottles and packages of snacks for easy access and to discourage sharing which can cause cross-contamination.

“Things are certainly different now in youth sports, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t continue to do the things they love in mindful ways,” says Bonci. “A few smart steps to support wellness can help your young athlete be the best no matter the environment.”

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