Healthy Snacks for Sports

Supply healthy snacks that kids will eat before, during, and after games.

Healthy snacks for sports - orange slices at halftime
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Keep young athletes strong and fit with healthy snacks for sports. The best snacks help kids refuel, satisfying their need for nutrients and their taste buds. And since sporty kids need different nutrients at different times, plan snacks, meals, and treats accordingly. Limit ingredients that will impede performance, and follow your team's snack policy, if it has one. Some wisely suggest, or require, fruit and water only for half-time and post-game snacks.

 

Healthy Snacks for Sports: Pre-Game

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 bet if kids will be playing for 60 minutes or less; choose whole-grain versions whenever possible.

For a longer game or training session, add some protein or fiber to slow digestion and sustain energy. To get these, choose fruit or low-fat protein options such as milk, turkey, or yogurt. But skip snacks with lots of sugar.

What to avoid: Fatty foods, since these slow digestion, and extra-sweet foods such as soda, candy, and sports drinks. These cause a spike in blood sugar. If sugar levels rise and 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, milk, yogurt, or pudding
  • Turkey, chicken, tofu
  • Apples, bananas, pears, oranges
  • Carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers

Healthy Snacks for Sports: Half-Time

During a game, it's most important to stay hydrated, so keep the water flowing. It shouldn't be a default, but if kids really 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 fresh 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)
  • Grapes
  • Small slices or chunks of melon
  • Apple or pear wedges (sprinkle with orange juice to prevent browning)
  • Berries (except cherries, since the pits will make a mess!)

Healthy Snacks for Sports: Post-Game

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. That's why sports drinks contain these electrolytes. But remember, there's a big difference between sports drinks and energy drinks.

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. And please, resist the urge to one-up the last parent who brought in a snack! No one likes a post-game snack arms race, with bigger, junkier, more preciously packaged items each week.

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
  • Yogurt
  • Pudding
  • String cheese
  • Popcorn, pretzels, baked chips
  • Muffins (low-fat)
  • Trail mix (with dried fruit instead of candy; beware nut allergies)

Sources:

Evers, Connie, RD.

Gotlin, Robert S., DO: Dr. Rob's Guide to Raising Fit Kids. New York: DiaMedica Publishing, 2008.

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