Studies show that when kids skip breakfast, they have a harder time focusing, are irritable and distracted by hunger.
This can lead to anxiety and lower performance in sports, said Steph Magill, a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition and is a sports parent to two teens. She recently was a guest on our Ultimate Sports Parent podcast.
Anxiety and lower performance can be a vicious cycle. When kids feel anxious or under-perform, it hurts their confidence in youth sports.
The main nutrition challenge for sports kids is not eating enough, or “under fueling,” she said. Sports kids often have tight, busy schedules and don’t take the time to eat in a way that properly fuels them.
To address these issues, parents can help their young athletes prepare better for the meals they need to feel good about and perform well in sports.
–Three to four hours before a game or practice, kids should eat a regular meal with about 50% carbohydrates, 25% protein and 25% fruits and vegetables.
“That could include grains, starchy vegetables, legumes and beans, although some people do experience stomach upset if they eat beans before activity. Also they could eat fruits, both fresh and dried, and milk yogurt, breads, and pastas,” Magill said.
–One to two hours before a game, lower the amount of fiber, protein and fat because it takes longer to digest them and they shouldn’t be sitting in kids’ stomachs. A snack or a light meal that’s high in carbohydrates with some protein is appropriate. This could be a turkey and cheese sandwich, toast with peanut butter or a smoothie, for example.
–Thirty to 60 minutes before a game or practice, kids should eat carbohydrates that are easy to digest. They should be low in fiber and include no protein or fat. These snacks could be bananas, pretzels, fruit gummies, applesauce or granola bars.
Be sure to help your sports kids create meal routines that include these suggestions, she adds. And just as they practice their skills, they should practice eating these foods to ensure they don’t upset their stomachs.
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