Keep young athletes strong and fit with healthy half-time snacks, and pre- and post-game meals and treats, that provide the right nutrients at the right time. It's also important to limit ingredients that will impede performance.
Healthy Snacks Before a Game or Workout
Help your child make it to half-time feeling strong: Fuel muscles with carbohydrates one to two hours before an athletic event or practice. Grains, such as pasta or crackers, are your best healthy snacks if kids will be playing for 60 minutes or less.
For a longer game or training session, add some protein or fiber to slow digestion and sustain energy: Choose fruit or low-fat protein options such as milk, turkey, or yogurt.
Avoid fatty foods (these slow digestion too much) and extra-sweet foods such as soda, candy, and sports drinks. These cause a spike in blood sugar. If sugar levels then drop quickly during a game, your child could become sluggish or even dizzy.
Pre-game snack suggestions:
- Whole-grain bread, crackers, tortillas, or pretzels
- Cereal (as long as it's not high in sugar)
- Enriched pasta or brown rice
- Plain popcorn
- Low-fat cheese, yogurt, pudding or milk
- Turkey, chicken, tofu
- Apples, bananas, pears, oranges
- Carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers
Healthy Half-Time Snacks
During a game, it's most important to stay hydrated, so keep the water flowing. If kids need a half-time snack, make it something easy to grab, eat, and digest. Avoid salty foods, since they dehydrate instead of re-hydrating. The best half-time snack choice is fruit, since it contains lots of water and nutrients, and also has kid appeal!
Half-time snack suggestions:
- Bananas (cut in half for younger kids so they can peel and eat more quickly)
- Orange slices
- Clementines (be prepared to help little ones peel)
- Small slices or chunks of melon
- Apple wedges (sprinkle with orange juice to prevent browning)
Healthy Snacks After a Game or Workout
Immediately following a game or intense practice, kids need lots of fluids to replace what they've lost to perspiration. Milk (including chocolate milk) and water are good choices. If they've really been sweating and/or it is extremely hot outside, athletes also need sodium and potassium, which is why sports drinks contain these electrolytes.
Finally, carbohydrates and proteins help kids refuel and re-energize. While a little sugar is OK, don't go overboard; it's not wise to reinforce the idea that sweets are a good way to reward yourself for a job well done.
If you're providing a team snack, find out if any children have allergies so you can avoid those dangerous foods.
Post-game snack suggestions:
- Fresh fruit (see list above) or applesauce
- Fruit frozen into kabobs or pops
- Dried fruit, including leathers or rolls made with 100% fruit
- Fruit-flavored gelatin
- Granola bars, but watch out for high calorie, fat, and sugar content
- Cookies: Best choices are fig bars, oatmeal cookies, animal crackers
- Crackers or bagels: Opt for whole-grain versions if you can; top with peanut butter, cheese, or low-fat cream cheese
- String cheese
- Popcorn, pretzels, baked chips
- Muffins (low-fat)
- Trail mix (with dried fruit instead of candy; beware nut allergies)
Evers, Connie, RD.
Gotlin, Robert S., DO: Dr. Rob's Guide to Raising Fit Kids. New York: DiaMedica Publishing, 2008.