Pack Up Healthy Food for Your Child Athlete

Tips to Fuel Young Athletes During All-Day Events

Summer is almost here and the extracurricular sports for kids are in full swing. Youth sporting events like baseball, football, soccer or swimming typically last all day and it is important to arm your cooler with the best foods to keep your child fueled and hydrated. The temptations at the snack bar will not be able to provide the proper nutrition for your young athlete, although fun for an occasional treat, the primary source of food should come from the parents. It is important to know and be in control of what your child is eating especially during an all-day event where a combination of physical activity, heat and sweat are happening for several hours. Your child will not only feel better but perform at an optimum fitness level when properly hydrated and fed.

Pack Plenty of Water

Child Sport Nutrition
Child Athletes Require Sports Nutrition. HeroImages/Getty Images

 According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “children may be at greater risk than adults for developing heat illness” and that is due to the differing thermal regulatory processes between a child and adult. It is recommended that your child athlete be “encouraged to drink water every 15 to 20-minutes during any activity period.”  Making sure that the cooler is stocked with water bottles and sports drinks for your child athlete to enjoy before, during and after the sporting event will be the first priority. The smart sporting organization should plan events to beat the heat, but it will be the smarter parent who prepares ahead a time for all circumstances of outdoor activity.

Fuel Your Athlete with Variety Nutrients

Child Athletes Eating Oranges
Well Balanced Nutrition for a Fueled Athlete. Alistair Berg Digital Vision/Getty Images

All children and especially young athletes require well balanced nutrition that provides necessary vitamins and minerals. Playing baseball for several hours is a great workout for your child but also requires energy food with staying power. Packing your cooler with good carbohydrates like fruits and whole grains are a great place to start. Healthy carbs are energy food and generally high in fiber which release sugar slowly over time. A well fueled athlete will be able to play longer, harder, and feel great while participating. An athlete running on candy and soda will feel sluggish, possibly become nauseated, and susceptible to heat illness. Packing the cooler with healthy fats like raw nuts or nut butter sandwiches on whole grain is another great way to properly fuel your athlete. Healthy fats contain fiber, proteins, are filling and provide long lasting energy for a busy day on the field or in the pool.

Packing the Cooler for Your Athlete

Healthy Food in Picnic Cooler
Tips for Packing a Cooler for Your Athlete. C Squared Studios Photodisc/Getty Images

 The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that “no matter what the age of your youngster, optimal performance depends more on a balanced diet, sufficient nutrients to meet the demands of physical activity, and adequate rest.”  That doesn’t mean to pack the refrigerator for an all-day sporting event, but think variety, healthy snacks, and hydration. The following guidelines will help you as a parent be prepared for the next event and help your young athlete feel at his or her best:

  • Temperature control: if it is going to be a scorcher, the cooler will need to contain an ample amount of ice to keep perishables, water and optional sports drinks cool. Pack lots of water!
  • Carbs are energy food: our bodies require good carbs to run efficiently and especially important during sporting events. Pack the cooler with a variety of healthy carbohydrates ranging from easily digested fresh or dried fruits, portable applesauce, and veggie sticks to heavier complex carbs like whole grain breads, pretzels, and granolas.
  • Meals and snacks: sporting events that last all day require larger meal fueling during the break periods. A lean meat or nut butter sandwich will scratch that itch along with a piece of fruit. The rest of the time grazing on snacks throughout the day will keep the muscles fueled and ready for the long haul.
  • Pack some protein and healthy fats:  protein and healthy fats are necessary nutrients for properly fueled muscles and ensure blood sugar, hunger and moods are stable. Including cheese sticks, raw nuts or nut butters, rolled deli meat slices with hummus, lean meat jerky’s, portable yogurts and low-fat milk are great to have on hand for the snacking athlete.


American Academy of Pediatrics,, Exercise-Related Heat Illness, 5/5/15

American Academy of Pediatrics,, Nutritional Needs for Young Athletes, 5/5/15

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,, Temperature regulation and elite young athletes, B. Falk, 10/21/10:

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