Suzanne Nelson, ScD, RDN
Sports Nutritionist, Speaker & Author
I used to live across the street from a middle school athletic field. On Saturdays in the fall, youth soccer games took center stage. I would watch as parents paraded across the field with coolers, shopping bags, chairs, blankets and umbrellas in hand. Tailgating was in full swing.
If you want to help your kids stay energized and hydrated, providing high-octane fuel is as necessary as having the right gear.
From my vantage point it appeared that most of what was being provided to feed the young athletes was often less than optimal. Aha moment. I needed to provide some education that fueling kids up on crème donuts, chips and soda was not a high performance strategy. My message to the parents would be simple. If they wanted to help their children stay energized and hydrated, providing “high octane” fuel was as necessary as having the right gear. I would hold up a few examples—boxes of raisins, bagels and watermelon slices. So across the street I went—armed with healthy food, beverages and my Parents Snack Guide for Active Kids handout.
It’s important for kids to “break the fast” and eat breakfast—especially before arriving at the playing field for a game. Along with water or low-fat milk, offer foods that are quick, easy and nutritious. Consider prepping the night before to save time.
Right after a game, a snack can help to start the recovery process of replacing muscle fuel (carbohydrates) used during activity, along with some protein to repair muscle. Fluid intake should be encouraged to replace sweat losses. Consider packing your cooler with these kid-friendly nutritious options:
If games (or practices) end around lunch or dinner time, you may opt to pack a meal. Along with low-fat chocolate milk, regular milk or water, here are some ideas:
I found that the parents were grateful for the information. Coaches understood the value of having well-fueled kids on the field. They would have more energy and focus. And the kids seemed to have fun finding foods that they liked on the list of healthy options.
Although every school and league is different, lots of parents and coaches (not to mention health care professionals) are concerned about kids being bombarded with unhealthy food choices at sporting events. I encourage you to print out a copy of these guidelines to start a discussion. My cousin recently took a copy to his son’s little league coach. He was tired of the nachos, hot dogs and soda that they were providing to the kids. And guess what? Parents and coaches worked together to make positive changes. When it comes to providing snacks for kids playing sports everyone involved can find a happy—and healthier balance!
Do you have any experiences to share about fueling kids for youth sports?
* Note: If you are asked to bring snacks for a team, make sure to check with parents about kids who may have food allergies. I’ve listed a variety of options that can be mixed and matched to accommodate dairy, gluten or nut allergies, but read labels carefully, and consult with a registered dietitian (RDN) or physician if you have questions.