Fuelling Up: Healthy Snacks For Young Athletes
Hockey, lacrosse, and soccer are but a few of the endless sports options for children and adolescents. Participation in sports at a young age develops skills, confidence, and good health. While sports are beneficial in many ways, young athletes are also undergoing critical periods of maturation. Consumption of nutritious snacks for young athletes is essential for growth and development while also supporting the energy demands of physical activity.
Young athletes should be arriving at a practice or game with enough stored energy to serve them through its duration. While most of this energy comes from balanced meals eaten prior to exercise, snacks are also essential as they provide the energy needed to optimize physical performance and improve mental focus for peak execution on the field, ice, or court.
Consider the following nutritious snacks for young athletes:
- Carbohydrate foods digest the fastest and come from vegetables and fruit, grain products, crackers, dried fruit, and some energy bars. Eating a snack high in carbohydrates 3-4 hours before a sports practice is shown to increase glycogen in the muscle, essentially providing the body with a quick boost of energy. The result? More power and focus throughout practice.
- Protein-rich foods are digested more slowly than carbohydrates and sustain energy during a long event. Greek yogurt, protein powder, cottage cheese, lean meat, and eggs are examples of higher protein choices. The closer the snack is to the exercise bout, the less protein it should contain due to proteins’ slower digestion rate.
- Low-fat foods are best, as too much dietary fat immediately before exercise can cause discomfort. French fries, chips, breaded chicken or fish, hot dogs, cheese, and chocolate bars are higher-fat choices that may cause discomfort during exercise.
*Involving children in the process of grocery shopping, snack selection, and packing snacks before practice increases the likelihood that they consume the fuel they need.
Consider the following snack options based on the timeframe before exercise:
Snacks for 90 minutes before exercise
A snack balanced with higher fibre, carbohydrates, protein, and fat is appropriate for up to 90 minutes out, as the digestive tract has more time to process a heavier snack. Consider these snacks that are rich in carbohydrates and moderate in protein and fat:
- Small protein wrap with almond butter and a banana.
- 1 can flavored tuna with rice crackers and individually portioned hummus.
- ¾ cup plain or vanilla Greek yogurt topped with fresh or frozen berries and Kashi Go Lean cereal. Consider a sprinkle of hemp hearts or slivered almonds for extra energy and healthy fats!
- Smoothie with ½ scoop whey protein powder or Greek yogurt, milk, a frozen banana, and peanut butter.
Snacks for 60 minutes before exercise
For snacks consumed 60 minutes prior to exercise, consider opting for a carbohydrate-based option with a small amount of healthy fat or protein. A lighter meal will provide energy without sitting heavily in the stomach. Some snack options include:
- Apple with Mini Babybel
- Pear with Piller’s Turkey Bites
- Rice crackers with 1-2 hard-boiled eggs
- Kodiak Cakes Protein-Packed Muffin
- Clif Builder Bar
Snacks for 30 minutes (or less) before exercise
If an athlete has 30 minutes or less before the event, consider a carb-based or calorie-dense snack. A large snack will take up too much room in the stomach and digest slowly, causing cramping or an upset stomach. Some travel-friendly, carb-based options include:
- Fresh fruit
- Gogo Squeeze Fruit Sauce
- Homemade Lara Bites (click here for the recipe!)
- Fig Newton Cookies
Holiday Snacking Tips for Athletes
Aside from ensuring proper nutrition before practices, holiday parties and family gatherings can be tempting for athletes to snack throughout the day or late at night. While athletes may not think twice about grabbing that extra cookie or slice of cake, a high sugar intake can cause exhaustion and fatigue during exercise.
So, how can athletes still enjoy that occasional piece of pie without sacrificing their overall performance goals?
1. Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods
If you’re in the diet mentality each day, or constantly thinking of sports performance, it will feel like a battle to avoid the “bad foods.” Flip this mentality. When filling up your plate this holiday season, think about adding nutrient-dense foods rather than subtracting treats or desserts.
Tip #1: Enjoy a whack load of veggies and fruit and don’t stress about the rest. When you load up on veggies and fruit, there is less room and desire for foods that don’t support athletic endeavours or energy levels.
Here are some ways to enjoy fruit and vegetables this holiday season:
- Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
- Make a vegetable-based appetizer, such as raw veggies served with a homemade dip (see this recipe!).
- Bring fresh fruit as a dessert option.
2. Savour your favorite foods
Take some time to reflect on which treats are truly special to you and your family. It is common to have food FOMO (“fear of missing out”) with endless temptations available. Consider the quote by Evelyn Tribole when choosing your favorite treats: “If you don’t love it, don’t eat it. If you do love it, savor it.” This is a quote that can help teach you discipline by encouraging treat consumption in a positive way.
Chances are that very few people’s favorites are the Pot of Gold chocolates, the generic donuts from Dunkin Donuts, or the store-bought cupcakes. These treats can be purchased and enjoyed at any time.
Tip #2: Only eat your holiday favorites that are special to the season. It might be the homemade butter tart your Grandma makes, the stuffing that you only have at Christmas dinner, or a buttery shortbread cookie while decorating the Christmas tree. When you choose to indulge in that special holiday treat, you will relish the taste that you only get to experience once a year without feeling guilty!
3. Avoid mindless snacking
Whether it be a couple of bites while preparing a special holiday dish in the kitchen with your parents or snacking on the leftovers while cleaning, these mindless snacking habits can add a substantial amount of unneeded calories and sugar. As mindless munching often leads to overeating, take your time when eating and remember to savour your food.
Tip #3: Make it a rule that you will sit down whenever you are eating. By sitting down, you avoid distractions and can truly savour your food. As such, you will feel satisfied and avoid overeating or excess consumption of treats. Not only will it result in more mindful eating, but it will also create quality moments with your family this holiday season.
Eating snacks that are focused on carbohydrates with healthy sources of fat and protein will not only provide a balanced nutrition profile for sustained energy in sports, but these snacks will also provide the nutrients needed for optimal health, development, and growth.