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6 Game Day Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes

As the mom of a travel baseball player, I spend most of my weekends at baseball tournaments. I watch parents, siblings, and players dip into large coolers filled with sodas and sports drinks, make multiple trips to the concession stand, eat fries, hot dogs, and burgers all day long.

To be fair, many of those coolers contain home-made sandwiches and bottles of water, but the reality is, we've all been there before. We get tempted into eating French fries, donuts or a burger, especially when it's so easy just to buy the food from the concession stand, rather than take the extra time to make sandwiches.

The bad news is that after eating those concession foods, we're left in "a food coma," without the necessary nutrition to function at our best.

Don't let this happen to your athlete, or to you, on game day.

Instead, make sure your diet propels you both to the next level. Here are 6 game day nutrition tips for young athletes:

1. Eat Carbs for Energy

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends good carbs for lasting energy. Think cereal for breakfast and pasta and potatoes for lunch. Whole-grain breads are a great option as well. Avoid sugary snacks that are high in carbs -- because these will cause a crash during the game.

2. Be Careful With Fatty Foods

While you do need fats, not all fatty foods are created equal. Avoid fatty foods that offer little to no nutritional value, like fried foods or desserts. Additionally, since fatty foods slow digestion, avoid them a few hours before the game.

3. Get Protein Throughout the Day

Young athletes require protein more so than less-active peers. But it's important to not overdo it. I've seen too many young athletes eating protein bars or taking protein powder, but it's much better to get your protein from healthy, natural choices like fish, lean meats and whole grains. Having eggs for breakfast is a great idea. Plant-based protein, like tofu and beans, works well with lunch. Also, the Harvard University strength and conditioning team advises getting more protein after the game than before, as protein builds and repairs muscles.

4. Don't Forget Food Safety

We've all heard stories about athletes getting food poisoning the day of the big game. Michael Jordan's famous "flu game" in the 1997 NBA Finals was really food poisoning. Store foods at the right temperature, wash fruits and vegetables, and pay attention to the quality of meats and other perishables. This is important, as food-borne illnesses are quite common.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of six people gets sick and 3,000 Americans die from food-borne illnesses each year.

5. Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water leading up to the game, and then consistently drink water throughout a game (just not too much). Stay away from caffeine, which dehydrates you. Sports drinks are okay, but shouldn't replace water, as they really aren't much better than good ol'water. If it's really hot or humid, the additional electrolytes and carbs from sports drinks may benefit you, but the additional sugar will not. Having fruit as a snack before the game will satisfy a sweet tooth, and can be incredibly hydrating, too.

6. Schedule Your Meals and Snacks Properly

Your body requires two or three hours to properly digest a meal. Ryan Turner, a sports nutritionist, advises eating a meal two or three hours before the game or a small starch-based meal one to two hours before. If it's within an hour, quick-digesting snacks like peanut butter, low-fat Greek yogurt and fruits work.

So, if you have a baseball game in the afternoon, the following eating schedule could work for you:

Eat eggs, grilled potatoes, blueberries and a glass of milk. Topping breakfast off with milk ensures you get calcium, which builds strong bones.

Eat a balanced lunch. This could include lean meat like fish or chicken, whole grains, at least two cups of vegetables like kale or spinach, low-fat dairy like cheese, and low-sugar fruits like avocado or strawberries.

Make sure to drink water. Also, eating a banana during the game will replenish you with potassium and carbs. Avoid foods high in protein, fat and fiber during the game, as these digest slowly.

Replenish with a fruit smoothie and low-fat Greek yogurt. For dinner, have a balanced meal with all five food groups.

Winning With the Right Nutrition on Game Day

Bad foods are all around us, making it hard to convince us to eat right. If you're a coach, make sure to highlight the benefits of good nutrition to athletic performance. This way, your players will be motivated to eat right and be the best they can be on the field.


#gamedaynutrition #athletenutrition #sportsnutrition #studentathlete #baseball #fastpitch #healthylifestyle

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