Game Day Nutrition – What Should Kids Eat?

Game Day Nutrition – Canteen or Not To Canteen…

Game day nutrition is far more important now than it used to be. Why? Things have changed for the next generation of youth athletes. They lead busier lives than their parents did at the same age with a daily grind of a full day of school followed by practices and plenty of homework. Their weekends are stacked with several games over 2 days depending on the sport they play. Their preparation leading up to games is important to set the tone for their body. A lack of proper nutrition and rest can lead to fatigue or even illness.

Ultra-competitive youth sports can consume plenty of energy from kids so good eating habits translate onto the field of play. They have to eat properly – food fuels sports. Some of the basic factors to consider are competition level, age, and size.

With children having bodies that are still growing, the primary focus should be to make sure they are getting the proper level of carbs and proteins in their game day nutrition. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and proteins help athletes maintain muscles that are being used in competition. Protein contains essential amino acids that help the body function properly.

Time restraints can make preparing meals ahead of time a challenge. But it’s important not to go with the easy way out and eat at the canteen: candy bars, sodas and chips. Taking the time to pack a cooler with nutritious foods will benefit your child’s ability to play well and will have long term lasting results.

Planning Game Day Nutrition

To start your game day nutrition, plan a meal 3 hours or more before activity with plenty of carbs and a moderate amount of protein but low in fat and fiber. Fat and fiber take longer to digest and can cause an upset stomach so it’s best to avoid these foods until after the game.

If kids eat less than 3 hours before a game or practice, serve a light meal or snack with easy-to-digest carbohydrates such as fruit, fruit/vegetable juice, crackers, or bread.

The post-meal for game day nutrition would be the same as for an adult, experts recommend eating within 15 – 30 minutes after intense activity and again 2 hours later. Your child’s body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and refilling energy stores and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition. So it’s important that the post-game meal be a balance of lean protein, carbs, and fat.

Meal and Snack Suggestions

A good breakfast for young athletes might include

  • low-fat yogurt with some granola and a banana
  • whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk with sliced strawberries
  • a glass of orange juice, along with single servings of oatmeal and blueberries
  • whole-grain bagels, toast, waffles or pancakes for a quick carbohydrate fix
  • sources of protein include eggs, peanut butter, nuts and milk or other dairy products.
  • include fruit in your meal — an apple or a handful of grapes are quick to grab on the way out the door.

For lunch:

  • try bean burritos with low-fat cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes
  • a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread and fruit
  • grilling a turkey hot dog and topping it with canned turkey chili for a high-protein, low-fat meal
  • Southwest tuna wrap: mix canned black beans, prepared salsa and cheese, and wrapping it with lettuce in a tortilla.
  • a simple tuna sandwich: dice some green onions, combine with the tuna and season it with salt, pepper, light mayonnaise

For dinner:

  • serve grilled chicken breasts with steamed rice and vegetables
  • pasta with tomato sauce and lean ground beef, along with a salad
  • grilled or baked salmon, baked sweet potatoes and steamedcabbage

Good snacks include:

  • pretzels
  • raisins
  • crackers
  • bagels
  • string cheese
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • protein bars are a good choice for sustained energy

Some really easy game day nutrition ideas are smoothies (protein shakes), chocolate milk, or regular low fat milk which are good sources of both carbohydrates and protein. You can purchase smoothies pre-made or even packaged in bottles. This proves to be a bit more child friendly. They can have a small portion, cap it and drink more later.

Drink Up! Game Day Nutrition isn’t JUST Food!

When packing your child’s bag for the big day, add a water bottle or sports drink.

During games, the number 1 priority should be hydration. Young athletes don’t regulate body temperature nearly as well as adults do. If you as a parent find it hot, think about how your child might feel. Thirst is not a reliable indicator of hydration status so experts recommend that kids drink water or other fluids before and every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity. It’s important to drink afterwards to restore fluid lost through sweat.

Most of the time, water is sufficient to meet the needs of hydration. However, there are instances where a sports drink can serve as a better mode of hydration. If a young athlete competes for over 60 minutes at a high intensity, sports drinks can be important. Sports drinks are designed to provide energy and replace electrolytes – such as sodium and potassium – that athletes lose in sweat. You’re not going to need it if you are simply engaged in 45 minutes of moderate activity. Diluted juices are another option but avoid sugary drinks and carbonated beverages that can upset the stomach and add unnecessary calories. At the end of a game, it is critical that hydration continues and calories are consumed. Make sure they keep drinking immediately after the event.

The bottom line is that for most young athletes, water is the best choice for hydration. After the activity, carbohydrates and electrolytes can be replenished.

It’s important to feed your child healthy meals and snacks consistently, even during the off-season. Game day nutrition is far easier for your child to understand if it is done all of the time. This will provide a solid foundation so you are not fighting with your child during times of competition about why the canteen is not a good choice. A healthy eating habit by your child will serve them well going into adulthood.