Top Nutrition Questions of 2012 (& My Answers)


By Jill Castle,  MS, RD, Child Nutrition & Feeding Expert

I get questions from parents, coaches and swimmers – from near and far (New Zealand and Phuket, Thailand). Queried topics range from gaining weight and losing weight, to advice about supplements and protein.

As we close out 2012, and ready ourselves to ring in the New Year, I thought I’d highlight some of the questions I’ve received over the year, and share my answers: 

Protein illustration, small.Will adding more protein to our young son’s diet help with weight gain or muscle development? 
There is a belief circulating that adding extra protein is the way to go when children need to put on weight or add muscle. To gain weight, children need extra calories, and that can be managed with what your swimmer eats, and the timing of meals and snacks. Increasing the fat content of the diet is the easiest way to add more calories. Make sure to add in fats that benefit health, such as plant oils (olive and canola), nuts and nut butters, seeds, olives and fatty fish. Regular meals (three a day) and snacks (two to three a day, depending on age and activity) are the best way to guarantee enough calories are being consumed. A high calorie, nutritious bedtime snack is effective in providing an extra calorie source also.

Adding or building muscle mass relies on the presence of testosterone, a hormone that increases during puberty. Before puberty, adding extra protein translates to an extra calorie source, rather than a building block for muscle development. Pushing protein in younger swimmers may tax the kidneys, promote dehydration and contribute to kidney problems or damage. 

Jelly Beans. (Small)What’s your take on eating "enhanced candies," otherwise known as sports beans? 

Sports beans (from Jelly Belly or other manufacturers) are composed of carbohydrates and electrolytes, manufactured into a jelly bean. The intention of these is to provide a source of energy and electrolytes during physical activity. The potential drawback for young swimmers is their lack of fluid, which requires swimmers to drink fluids, preferably water, alongside. Using jelly beans also reinforces “candy eating,” which doesn’t really train athletes how to fuel (eat) for performance.

Another product category is the “extreme” sports beans. These contain carbohydrate, electrolytes and caffeine, marketed as providing an extra boost of energy during spots performance. Caffeine isn’t recommended for children or teens, so young swimmers should steer clear of these.

Last, research on sports beans was done with adults, not children, so effects may be different in the younger swimmer. 

Carbohydrate Illustration. (Small)Would you please provide some suggested foods that my high school swimmer (and the team) can eat to maintain his energy and provide fuel for his heats? 

Carbohydrate is the most important nutrient to have on hand during a meet. Great sources include: whole grain crackers and dry cereals; salted pretzels; fresh fruit such as banana, oranges, apples; or dried fruit (raisins, cherries, apricots, mango). Tossing in a side of protein (rolled up deli meat, hard-boiled eggs, nuts or nut butters) or foods that house both carbohydrate and protein such as cheese, yogurt sticks, bricks of plain or flavored milk, helps keep hunger at bay and muscles fueled for performance and repair.


Setting up swimmers for success also means making sure they have eaten well the day before the meet. I like to remind swimmers, “What you ate yesterday, shows up in the pool today!”

My child is severely allergic to several common foods. I struggle to find allergen-free foods that are good for eating before and during a swim meet. Do you have suggestions?

Young swimmers with food allergies can be successfully fueled for any race. First, give consideration to specific allergens, then make quality, energizing food choices. If your swimmer must avoid certain food categories, such as milk, make sure to fill in the gaps with nutritious alternatives, such as the following: 

Carbohydrate sources: traditional wheat-based crackers, bread, cereals; Rice-based crackers and cakes and cereals; products made with alternative flours such as buckwheat, almond, flax meal and cornmeal; oats; instant oatmeal packs; higher calorie veggies like corn, potato, sweet potato; higher calorie fruits such as banana, dried fruits (apricots, raisins, cherries, etc.); canned fruits in heavy syrup, 100% juices. 

Protein sources: plain or flavored dairy milk*; nondairy milk sources* (soymilk and products made with soy; almond milk; nut milks; coconut-based yogurts); deli meats; cheeses*; Sunbutter (nut-free); edamame. *Also contains carbohydrate source. 

Fats: add flax or olive oil to pastas, rice, potatoes; nut butters to smoothies and baked goods; use avocado as a sandwich spread; add nuts to yogurt, cereal and trail mix.

It’s been my pleasure to write these nutrition feature articles over the past year. Your comments and questions provide the inspiration for many of my posts, and I thank you! Be sure to check the archives on for more answers to your questions and challenges. 

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