When choosing food for kids before a sports event, it is not just what food they eat and drink that is important, it is also when they eat. It takes time for food to digest and for fluid to absorb in order for the body to properly utilize its nutrients and hydration.
While eating right 24 hours before a game cannot make up for months of poor eating habits, uniquely balanced meals and snacks can help your child to perform his or her best. Athletic games can be played any time of the day, so to best apply recommendations, let’s do a countdown from 24 hours before a game. For purposes of this article, we’re going to say the game is at 7 p.m.
It is not just what food that the kids eat and drink that is important, it is also when they eat
The day before a game
Prepare meals and snacks that your child typically eats and are well tolerated, as long as they are nutrient dense. Be sure to include:
• A starch/grain, lean protein, fruit, milk/yogurt and veggies for a balanced meal.
• Yogurt, fruit, cheese, whole grain crackers, and veggies in any combination are great snack options.
• Encourage kids to stay well hydrated.
Breakfast (12 hours before)
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so be sure your child starts the day off with an energy-packed breakfast. This would be the time to start encouraging “complex carbs,” the ones that digest slower, allowing for a slower release of energy.
• Examples include: whole grain starches-oatmeal, ragi, or whole wheat roti, cereals
• Include additional carbohydrate in the form of fruit or 100% fruit juice or a combination of carbohydrate and protein from milk or yogurt.
• Additional protein sources include eggs, cheese, nuts or nut butter.
Lunch (7-8 hours before)
Continue to choose meals with mainly carbohydrate, along with protein. Additional fiber from whole-grain starches or vegetables and healthy unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and oils are acceptable to include with this meal since there will be more time to digest them. Continue to choose “complex carbs.” Examples include:
• Whole grain – brown rice, whole wheat roti
• Beans, dal, lentils
While you do want your child to consume mainly carbohydrate with this meal, there is no need to “carb-load” by eating significantly larger portions of grain or starch. As long as your child consistently chooses mainly carbohydrates with most meals, they will have enough stored energy available during the game. Eating too much carbohydrate can actually do more harm than good by causing bloating or gastrointestinal distress. Also:
• Include a cooked vegetable or salad with this meal.
• It is acceptable to choose a small dessert with this meal.
• Hydrate with water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent fruit juice
Dinner (2-3 hours before)
Whether you are planning a meal for home or a dish for a pre-game potluck, choose a meal that is high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and low in fat and fiber. Carbohydrate is necessary to maximize glycogen storage in muscles. Glycogen is a main source of energy during exercise.
• Starch such as bread, roti, rolls, cereal, pancakes, pasta, rice, potato
• Fruit — fresh, frozen, dried, canned in juice, or 100 percent fruit juice
• Milk/yogurt – this contains carbohydrate, protein and fat
Protein is needed to maintain muscle tissues and may help reduce soreness post-exercise. Choose only lean sources. Extra fat will take longer to digest:
•Eggs, dal, pulses
• Avoid: Fat and fiber take longer to digest, therefore limit intake to prevent any gastrointestinal upset. Examples
• Cereal + banana + milk
• Egg and cheese on fruit
• Chicken and cheese sandwich/wrap + fruit + fat free or low-fat yogurt
• Lean hamburger + baked chips + fruit
Hydrate with water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent fruit juice. Be sure to avoid soda. The calories from sugar provide no nutritional value and the carbonation could cause an upset stomach.
One hour before the game
It is important to remain well hydrated. Have them sip on 8 to 20 ounces of water or a sports drink. And if exercising at high intensity or for more than one hour, consider a small snack of pretzels, graham crackers, dry cereal or a small amount of fruit (banana or grapes)
The right food for kids at the right time ensures enough energy during the game time.