Want to help your young athlete get that competitive edge? Be sure to fuel them with the most wholesome clean foods possible.  It is imperative that we, as parents, provide our children with the best, most nutrient dense foods possible; for school, play, health and sports.  Yes, I know it is not easy with everything else going on in our lives…but let’s just focus on the importance of wholesome, nutrient dense foods for our blooming athletes.

With it being a fairly wide topic, I am hoping I can break it all down in simple terms.  Each of our children are individuals and their nutritional needs do vary, but in essence, athlete or not, they need enough calories (energy!!) to make it through their busy days.  As athletes, going through a full day of classes and then on to practice after school, finishing off with homework when they get home, it is IMPERATIVE to begin the day with proper hydration and a nutrient dense breakfast. 

Breakfast Components:

Protein-eggs, lean turkey bacon, tofu, low-fat dairy, protein powder

Carbohydrate-steel cut oats, whole-grain toast, low-sugar/whole-grain cereal (such as Uncle Sam or Total)

Fat-this will come from the food sources above, and dairy

H2O-at least a full glass; 8oz

So they are fueled for the first few hours of the day but before they head off into that sugar-laden, refined carb, highly processed food world, it is your responsibility to provide them with the best fuel for their active day ahead.  Here are some ideas for packing their lunches.  As I often say, get them involved so you are sure they are going to eat it!  

Lunch Essentials:

Protein-lean turkey, peanut butter, leftover meat source from dinner

Carbohydrate-whole-grain bread, quinoa, brown rice

Fat-walnuts, almonds, avocado

H2O-plain water, coconut water, water flavored with lemon or oranges

The day of an athlete is not only about school work, it also means recess with our younger one, physical education for those who are blessed to still have it as part of school curriculum and after-school practice.  Nutrient dense snacks are important.  As a matter of fact, Tara Guidus, Orlando Magic team dietitian, calls it their 4th meal. This is in an effort to encourage more wholesome foods as opposed to the typical snack-like foods like chips, and gummy candies (yuk!).  What do sports dietitians advise?


½ turkey sandwich,

Fruit and cheese

Peanut butter and whole-grain crackers

Small wrap with hardboiled egg slices

Hardboiled egg, whole grain toast

Hummus and ½ pita 

In essence, just as stated, this is a small portion of what could be served as a meal. All have a portion of protein, carbohydrates and good fats.  I would also add some raw carrots, cucumbers or celery sticks; some type of veggie that is not going to make your athlete feel gassy.  Which, it may be worth noting here, game and practice days are not the ones to try new foods.  You want to be sure that the foods you are serving are going to be eaten and not cause any undue digestive stress.

During the game that lasts more than an hour be sure there is plenty of water and yes, this is the type of event where sports drinks could be beneficial.  Some experts may say no, due to age or the fact that the child may only be sitting on the sidelines, so parents, please do your research and make an educated decision here.  In addition to proper hydration during bouts longer than one hour, there is need to refuel.  Bananas, oranges, apples and even Fig Newtons are great during the game.

After the game or an afternoon of practice, there is need for proper refueling to gain back what was depleted.  Although it may be thought of as rocket science, it really is not when it comes to feeding our younger athletes.  Basically, they need to continue to rehydrate and eat a combination of protein, carbohydrates and antioxidants. The protein is needed to build and repair muscle tissue, carbohydrates are for energy repletion and some fruits and vegetables are needed because of their supply of antioxidants. During exercise, our bodies are hit with oxidation and our powerful rainbow of produce will put out those flames and help get your children back in the game fully recovered.  

Ok, so what about timing? Within 30 minutes of practice or a game that was over an hour long, feed your child some protein and carbohydrates.  For instance, for all of the parents who are heading to the field on Saturday mornings, have a half turkey sandwich or piece of fruit with a cheese stick ready for them.  Don't want the hassle? How about some store-bought bars such as Lara bars and Cliff bars for kids.  If you want to be adventurous, you could try making your own the day before.  Whats easy is mixing your own trail mix of dried fruit, mini pretzels (the salt is great for recovery), and nuts.  

Then, within the next 1-2 hours following, they will need to replenish again with protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.  

Dinner ideas:

Whole grain pasta, low-sugar marinara sauce, turkey meatballs, small salad

Brown rice, grilled chicken, sale greens and orange slices

On the go dinner:

leftovers packed the night before in a cooler, with fruit and veggies

whole-grain bread with thinly sliced chicken breast, tomato and spinach, banana 


So whether you are raising an athlete....  Or just a super active child who loves to play...feed them right!