Home » Blog » October Sports Nutrition Month » Valerie Berkowitz: Following Five Key Lifestyle Habits Key To Optimum Sports Performance

As Sports Nutrition Month at MomsTEAM rolls into its third week,  we hear from child nutrition expert, Valerie Berkowitz, Director of Nutrition Education at The Center for Balanced Health:

MomsTEAM: What do recommend sports-active kids eat for breakfast? 

Valerie Berkowitz and family

Berkowitz: Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, sports active kids need balanced nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats in a ratio of 1:1:1) throughout the day. The main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy. Fat helps the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. Protein functions to repair muscle after prolonged exercise and is important for growth. Protein at all meals and snacks will help keep appetite stable, help repair muscle tissue after workouts and provides better absorption of certain micronutrients like iron, zinc, copper and B vitamins. Micronutrients are just as important for peak performance.

Balancing nutrient-dense meals fuels the body for optimal functioning. For breakfast, I recommend:

  • Eggs with spinach broccoli and cheese, 
  • Peanut butter in celery or banana boats, 
  • Whey or soy protein shake with added fresh fruit, cottage cheese
  • Plain Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit
  • Oatmeal pancakes made with protein powder or topped with peanut butter, 
  • French toast sprinkled with cinnamon and turkey franks

MomsTEAM: What are your top five foods for sports nutrition. 


  1. Water.  Although technically not a food, it is most important
  2. Dairy to replace electrolytes and keep bones strong and growing (cheese, organic chocolate milk, 2% Greek yogurt)
  3. Fat from salted nuts/seeds/nut butters for nutrient "cross coverage", these foods contain protein, electrolytes and trace minerals that help all systems work better. Olives and avocados are fruits found in the fat group and deserve an honorable mention.
  4. Protein for iron and muscle repair and growth (hard boiled eggs, sliced turkey or roast beef, nitrate-free turkey franks or hot dogs)
  5. Fruits and vegetables such as kiwi, cherries, cherry tomatoes, strawberry, orange, broccoli, peppers and avocado (guacamole) with high vitamin C because they help increase iron absorption, increase fiber and acts as anti-oxidants to reduce free radical damage from intense exercise. Honestly most any fruit or vegetable works.

MomsTEAM: Do you think youth and high school athletes need supplements? If yes, which ones?

Berkowitz: Most kids do not eat a balanced diet; convenience foods are popular, fruits and vegetables are not. Many kids have suboptimal levels of iron, copper, zinc, vitamin A, C, D, calcium, fiber and potassium. Intense exercise boosts the needs for some of these nutrients even higher. I suggest these supplements:

  1. Multivitamin/mineral (MVI) to ensure the basic micronutrients are met (teenage girls who do not eat red meat should consider a MVI with iron)
  2. Omega 3 fish oil helps support focus, reduce inflammation and much much more
  3. Calcium with magnesium, Vitamin D, boron, Vitamin K supports growth and strength for bones
  4. Greens: drink to reduce the oxidation associated with exercise, increase nutrients similar to vegetable intake

MomsTEAM: What is the best snack to pack in a sports-active kid's school backpack or gym bag?

Berkowitz: Foods that will sustain energy, provide nutrients to assist in growth, development and enhance sports performance, that are clean without additives and preservatives, and that they will enjoy eating:

  • faux trail mix: shredded coconut, pumpkin seeds and/or shelled pistachios or any nut of choiceDark chocolate
  • Dark chocolate with a handful of almonds
  • 1-2% fat cheese sticks with crackers
  • 1/2 a meat and vegetable stuffed sandwich
  • Plain 2% fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit of choice
  • Whey protein shake

MomsTEAM: What is a quick and easy dinner to make for a family meal after an afternoon practice or game?

Berkowitz: Is there anything easier than a BBQ? BBQ eating is quick and easy and there is very little clean-up. Colorful meals provide a variety of nutrients that will help replete lost nutrients after a strenuous day on the field.

Sample meal:

  • Cheeseburger (or nitrite free hot dogs, chicken or steak) on the grill, easy to make and minimal clean-up. Natural meat from grass-fed livestock has higher omega 3 and does not contain excess hormones and antibiotics. 

Animal sources of protein provide quality protein, easily absorbable iron (especially important for teen girls), niacin, vitamin B12, zinc and selenium

  • Broccoli, carrots, celery sticks and cucumbers with guacamole 

Vitamins A, C, E , K, B vitamins, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Selenium, Fiber, Folate, Potassium, Manganese, Copper

  • Baked sweet potato fries 

Potassium, Vitamins A, B6, C, Fiber

  • Essence flavored water to replenish lost water during practice. 
Avoiding sugar laden beverages, caffeine and carbonated drinks to avoid dehydration.

MomsTEAM: What is the most important thing about nutrition that every sports parent should know? Any tips?

Berkowitz: There is no magic bullet when it comes to giving your child the competitive edge in sports, but following 5 key lifestyle habits will help make the difference:

  1. Adequate hydration before, during and after work outs ( 20 oz. water 2.5 hours before exercise, 10 oz. 15 minutes before exercise, 8 oz. for every 15 minutes of physical activity and continue drinking water throughout the course of the day) 
  2. Electrolyte balance** (see below)
  3. Adequate balance of energy intake & micronutrients**(see below)
  4. Anti-oxidant intake through eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and basic supplementation** (see below)
  5. Sufficient sleep for muscle repair, lack of sleep affects the hormones that are active in post work out muscle repair 

Nutrition tips 

  1. Eat a variety of foods to supply electrolytes, vitamins/minerals and antioxidants. Use common sense, know what you and your children are putting into your bodies. Do not fall for marketing strategies that hook you and draw you in. Read labels. Look at the ingredient section to identify what you are really eating.
  2. Don't fall into the "fat trap": active children need more calories. More calories does not mean milkshakes, french fries and pizza galore. Include healthy, natural fat, foods that add nutrient value to get a broad range of nutrients that will support good health and sports performance. Healthy natural fats from nuts (coconut, peanuts, almonds etc.) and seeds (pumpkin, flaxseed, sunflower), avocado, olives or olive oil, fish, full fat diary etc. play important roles for hormone development, reduced inflammation. Skin, hair, nail, brain, nerves, hormones need these healthy fats.
  3. Rest, relaxation and sleep are critical elements to rejuvenate the muscles and hormones that need to work at peak performance during games and major events. Spending time in a warm bath, creating time to read in bed at the end of the day, ensure sleep duration matches age-appropriate recommendations are just a few things that support work-out recovery
Key Micronutrients, Electrolytes and Antioxidants for Active Kids

Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants

  • Iron (carries oxygen to the cells for energy) best absorbed from red meat
  • B vitamins (create energy and are essential for growth and development, involved in healthy looking skin and forming red blood cells) 
  • Vitamin C (antioxidant, also supports iron absorption) 
  • Zinc (growth healthy immune system, and healthy skin, hair, nails and eyes) 
  • Copper (supports the absorption of iron, helps in blood formation)
  • Selenium (protection from oxidation caused by due high intensity exercise)


Electrolyte balance depends on all 3 minerals (sodium, potassium and chloride): 

  • Sodium ( fluid and electrolyte balance, supports muscle contraction and nerve impulse ) 
  • Potassium (maintains fluid and electrolyte balance, cell integrity, muscle contractions and nerve impulse transmission) 
  • Chloride (fluid and electrolyte balance, aids in digestion)


Bone strength and growth depends on:

  • Calcium (Formation of bones and teeth) 
  • Magnesium(bone mineralization, protein building, muscular contraction, nerve impulse transmission) 
  • Phosphorus (Formation of cells, bones and teeth, maintains acid-base balance)



Valerie Berkowitz is co-author of "The Stubborn Fat Fix," a quick and easy guide to healthy eating and food shopping for the family. Her work as a nutritionist spans over 20 years, but her specialty in kids nutrition started over 10 years ago while pregnant with twins. On a daily basis she uses every opportunity to educate her now 4 very active children on balanced eating practices so that they make their own healthy food choices and be the best sports kids they can be. Valerie is Director of Nutrition Education at The Center for Balanced Health. She is also on the Family Food Experts: Kid Kritics Approved Seal Ingredient Standards Board where the goals are to create more availability for healthier food options that taste great for kids and their families, and support moms in making healthy choices.  

You can follow Valerie on Twitter @nutritionnohow, visit Valerie's blog, "Valerie's Voice: For The Health Of It", at http://valerieberkowitz.wordpress.com/, friend her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/valerie.berkowitz, or connect with her at The Center for Balanced Health (www.centerforbalancedhealth.com).