As busy professionals, we juggle many balls – work, career, finances, our relationships, health, family needs as well as personal growth, fun and recreation. It’s the first week of September, and for many that means, in addition to new school routines, we are now also juggling after-school sports and activities.
The start of September is an opportunity to teach our kids about the role of food in fueling their sports performance. But how do you feed kids for sports scheduled after school without routinely stopping for fast food or at the local vending machine?
I asked parents living in the trenches of after-school sports for their tips and ideas for feeing kids during this tricky time.
Think of kids playing sports as young athletes who need foods to fuel their bodies for their sport and for their growth and development. Kids will feel better and play better if they eat good quality food and drink (or “sports foods” ). Of course, there is a time for the not-so-good-for-you foods…but not before your sport.
A well-planned sports diet (ie – how you eat) can supply all your athletes’ needs, and more! While kids may be interested in sports drinks and protein powders, these are not usually necessary. Instead, teach kids to use everyday food and drink to fuel their sport.
Offer an easily digestible carbohydrate-rich snack – one that sits well in their stomach, and does not “talk back” to you. Examples of such foods are listed below.
Fuelling up on carbohydrates is like putting gas in your athlete’s car, giving them the fuel needed for their sport.
Minimize fat and protein intake before your after-school sport, as these foods are slower to digest and may “sit” in your child’s stomach. So think about offering a granola bar, not a protein bar.
** Remember, it takes time to digest food:
For practices scheduled right after school, you will want a small snack instead of a larger meal.
Think of your after-school snack as a “second lunch” – this helps prevent eating the not-so-good for you foods like sweets and treats. There is a time for the not-so-good-for-you foods, but not before your sport.
The amount a child needs to drink depends on their age, size, the degree and intensity of physical activity, the weather (temperature, humidity) and physical environment in which the sport is occurring.
Offer your athlete liquids to fuel their hydration throughout the day. Milk, 100% real fruit juice, smoothies, water all contribute to a child’s hydration, as do their food choices, such as vegetables, fruits, yogurt.
Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day, as well as before, during and after their activity. While there is not enough scientific evidence to promote sports drinks for activities <60 minutes , whatever beverage your child will drink the most of is the best choice to prevent dehydration.
Kids tend to drink more when they like the taste of what they are drinking. Try flavouring water with frozen fruit – and of course, continuing to offer water.
Avoid soft drinks. Avoid energy drinks. Energy drinks contain caffeine and may be harmful to children.
For more information about hydration and children, click here .
Parents and coaches can inspire kids to make the connection between what they eat and how they feel before, during and after their activities.
Do they feel like they have “jump” to go get the puck or the ball, or do they feel tired and sluggish – like they are walking through thick syrup? When they felt that way, what and when did they eat and drink in the last day? Helping them to make this connection helps with their buy-in for sports nutrition. Again – there is time for not-so-good-for-you foods – just not before sports.
Help kids to see the power of foods – and how foods can help their body do the wonderful things they can do – soccer, hockey, dance, figure skating, basketball, karate, gymnastics, etc.
Teaching kids about sports nutrition happens in every-day life, regardless if you have a practice or a game. Encourage your young athlete to practice good sports nutrition throughout the day, as well as after school. Experiment with food types and amounts during a practice or training, not during a game, a tournament or a performance.
Help kids to pay attention to what and how much they eat and how they feel during practices so that they have their own unique strategies for games and competitions…hello Green Hulk Smoothie!
Just like you pack your shoes, sports gear, bring along your sports foods and drink. This will help avoid the temptations of eating at vending machine, and can help tie over hunger (and hanger) after until you get home.
Think about snacks that are portable –
Think about foods your athlete can enjoy on the ride home. Pack up bins of cut up fruit and veggies and leave them open in the car for munching when driving to/from the practice.
Most kids don’t need specialty sports products. There are special times when sports products can be helpful – for example, those athletes training at a high intensity for longer periods of time, or during tournaments or multi-event competitions with short breaks in between.
Many families waste money misusing these specialty products, when everyday foods could meet their needs. For example, a pre-exercise bar is an expensive way to energize your athlete’s sport, when other portable snacks could provide the same benefit.
Here are ideas from real-life parents who are living in the trenches of after school sports, and who have kindly shared their after- school sports snack solutions (in addition to their strategies above).
If you have a bit more time between school and sport, your athlete will have more time to digest their food. Be mindful of portions and encourage your athlete to take note of how they feel during their sport.
Here, I put these food ideas into a table where you can mix-and-match your sports snacks.
|Veg/fruit||Grain||Milk products||Meat & alternatives||Mixed|
-Cut up peppers
-Frozen fruit – frozen grapes, frozen blueberries, strawberries, oranges
-Fruit smoothie 
|-Whole wheat bagel
Whole grain toast
-Cold cereal (dry snack) <8 g sugar, >2 g fiber
|-Egg – scrambled, boiled
-Edamame bean pods
-English muffin pizza
-Egg + cheese on English muffin
-Peanut butter + jam sandwich
-Peanut butter + banana sandwich
-Apple cheese quesadilla triangles
-Cheese quesadilla + berries
-Pasta + tomato sauce
-Fruit and nuts
Encourage your young athlete to find their best whether that be at a practice, a game, a rehearsal or a performance – and how food can be a part of that.
Thank you to all the parents who took time out of their busy schedules to help me create this blog post.