Sporty Snacks for Youth Athletes

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | March 12, 2018

When my oldest child enrolled in “Little Kickers” soccer, I was ready to sign up to bring the weekly snack! What a great idea to fuel these little athletes properly from the start, right? Well, let’s just say that most other parents were not on the same nutritionally-minded page as I was. Saturdays came and went, and I saw a deluge of donuts, chips, fruit snacks and cupcakes being brought onto the field for these children to eat DURING practice! I could hear the laughter from the goal line when I brought sliced oranges and bananas on my assigned day. “Oh…she’s a nutritionist,” I overheard another parent sarcastically say later during that practice.

That was over a decade ago, and I think the mindset has changed – or I hope it has anyway! The focus is shifting more towards fueling our children optimally and setting them up for successful decision-making skills throughout their lives.

I believe that it’s important to teach our young athletes how to fuel properly for sport. We can use opportunities like these to talk to them about ways to provide energy to working muscles, supply fluids for total body hydration and use nutrients to recover from activity. It’s never too early to discuss these important sports nutrition topics. So, here is a little cheat sheet for the next time you get assigned to your youth athlete’s snack signup rotation!

Morning Games and Practices

It can be difficult for young athletes to wake up, get their gears together AND eat in the morning. It’s a lot to ask a groggy child to do! Make the early morning meal simple to grab and go and simple to digest. This will top off nutrient stored from the day before and provide available energy to muscles that will need it once the practice or game begins!

Try some of these breakfast ideas:

  • Mini bagel with light cream cheese or natural peanut butter
  • Hardboiled egg and an English muffin
  • Greek yogurt with a sliced banana
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Instant oatmeal with sliced almonds

After School Games and Practices

This is a tricky time for kids. Energy levels can be low as it’s been hours since the last meal and they have been sitting in school for a long time. Focus on a combination of protein AND carbs. Some kids come right home and munch on high carbohydrate snacks which can lead to a dip in energy once practice (or a game) begins.

Here are some great after school fueling options:

  • Greek yogurt cup (regular yogurt also works well if they don’t like Greek yogurt)
  • Peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches on whole-grain bread
  • Turkey and cheese wrap with spinach leaves
  • Low-fat string cheese and mini pretzels
  • Pretzels and hummus

Recovery Snacks

Immediately after practices and games are the ideal time to replenish their bodies of the fuel that was burned. This will help your young athletes come back stronger and more energetic the next day!

Here are a few excellent recovery snacks:

  • Air-popped popcorn and low-fat chocolate milk
  • Apple slices with peanut butter or almond butter
  • Whole-grain granola bars
  • Homemade granola
  • Fruit and nut mixture

We have the perfect opportunity to not only keep our active children healthy and strong but also to teach them how to take care of their active bodies throughout their childhood and into adulthood!

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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