by Sarah Muntel, RD
Remember the days of passing out sugary juice drinks, fruit snacks and chips after your daughter’s first soccer game? Have you ever served a box of donuts to your child’s basketball team before an early morning basketball game? We have all had mom snack moments. Now it’s time to step up your game.
Youth sports are exploding and busy parents are scrambling to find quick, nutritious snacks that can keep their athlete going strong for a game or practice. The right nutrition can fuel your child and improve their game.
Before you start with snacks, it’s important to lay the foundation. An overall balanced diet is important for your child as they balance activity with meals and snacks. Carbohydrates (grains, fruits and vegetables), protein (meats, dairy, nuts and legumes) and fats (oils, avocados) are a great place to start. Before we dive into snacks, what is your daily meal plan like? Let’s take a look below.
Meal Plan Check List:
Now that we are set with a balanced meal plan, how do games, practices and events fit in? As your child adds in more activity, it is important to add in some additional snacks to meet their nutritional needs. Filling-up with carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat is important. Remember, the foods you choose can affect their performance.
Is your child staying hydrated? Water is the drink of choice for all kids. It is important to offer fluids during the day and bring a water bottle to games and practices. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests using the chart below as a guide for daily water consumption. Just remember to add one half-cup to two cups of water for every 15 – 20 minutes of exercise!
Table courtesy of EatRight.org
|Age Range||Gender||Total Water (cups/day)|
|4 to 8 years||Girls and Boys||7|
|9 to 13 years||Girls / Boys||9 / 10|
|14 to 18 years||Girls / Boys||10 / 14|
There are many options for fluid. Water is always the best choice (it is worth repeating). While there are many drinks containing electrolytes for extended training sessions, these typically aren’t needed unless practice is longer than 90 minutes. If you do choose a sports drink, remember to watch the sugar content. Some sports drinks contain teaspoons and teaspoons of sugar, even though they are marketed as the perfect drink! Especially for short exercise bouts, choosing a sugar-free option is the best idea. Look for the words “zero” or “sugar-free” on the label. These sugar-free options can be a great way to get fluid and electrolytes into your plan without additional sugar.
We often feel it is necessary to fill kids up on snacks following any activity. This isn’t always true. Playing basketball in the yard, a pick-up soccer game outside or a dip in the pool doesn’t require an extra snack. Of course, if your kids are hungry, add something in, but adding fuel for short exercise stents is not always a must. Longer bouts of exercise or games do require some additional fuel. Just remember, what you feed your kids can make all the difference.
If it’s an elementary soccer game, a middle school swim meet or a high school volleyball game, carbohydrates are needed for energy and performance. If your child hasn’t had a recent meal, about an hour before the game or practice, offer your child a snack. For a pre-game snack, choose carbohydrate-based foods. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and in muscles to be used for fuel during exercise. Your child needs them for quick energy before the game begins. The best options for pre-game carbohydrates include fruits and whole grains.
Examples of Healthy Pre-game Snacks:
What to Avoid:
Avoid items that may cause stomach upset. High-fiber foods and high-fat items stay in the stomach a little longer and can be harder to digest. Avoid these foods pre-game.
If you have a longer event (more than 90 minutes), you may want to try something a little more substantial. Add some protein in the mix. It is important to keep the needed carbohydrates, but also to add in some protein to help with additional fuel. Pairing a protein and a carbohydrate is the best way to do this.
Protein and Carbohydrate Power Partners:
Looking for a quick dip with some protein? Mix up this healthy dip and serve with fruit or whole grains. It’s a quick and tasty way to get both protein and carbohydrates!
Mix all ingredients together and enjoy with fresh fruit, pretzels or animal crackers (or even a spoon!). Cover and refrigerate leftovers and use within two days.
When the game is over, don’t run to the chips just yet. It’s important for your child’s body to recover. If dinner or lunch is not right after the practice, game or meet, offer a protein and carbohydrate combination snack. Protein helps with muscle recovery after a session and carbohydrates help to refuel.
Remember, snacks aren’t always necessary. For many, after a game or practice, kids sit down to dinner or lunch. If that’s the case, just wait for your kids to sit down to a balanced, healthy meal.
Looking for a perfect post-game snack? Below is a trail mix recipe full of carbohydrates and protein, plus a little chocolate, because everything is okay in moderation! Serve this trail mix to your kids or put it in baggies and serve to their team!
Add all ingredients, mix and enjoy!
Sports and activities are a fantastic way for kids to increase their physical activity, build confidence and learn teamwork. Combining physical activity with good nutrition will lead to long-term health!
About the Author:
Sarah Muntel, RD, is a Registered Dietitian from Indianapolis, IN. She has worked in the field of bariatrics for the past 18 years. She has worked with both bariatric and metabolic surgery patients as well as medical weight-loss patients. Throughout her career, Sarah has worked in several bariatric centers in Indianapolis. She is currently the Bariatric Coordinator with Community Health Network. Sarah is an active member of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), serves on the OAC Education Committee and frequently contributes to OAC’s Weight Matters Magazine and YWM Blog. She also plays an active role in the Indiana State Chapter of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). In her free time, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and watching her three kids play sports.
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