Keep Your Athlete Strong This Fall: Food to Fuel the After-School Practice

School has officially begun or is about to begin.  While mom and dad work hard to get a balanced breakfast in their young athlete in the morning, the athlete is now on his or her own for about 7 hours a day in regards to food and nutrition.  This seven hours is a time that can include fueling for an afternoon practice or recovering from a morning workout.  However, often times it is not.  No one is close to guide the athlete's food choices, remind him or her to drink water, to see what he or she had for lunch or to see if lunch was even eaten.  

The challenge for the child or teen athlete is to not get so caught up in projects, friends and activities during the day that they miss snacks, skip lunch or forget to drink fluids.  Many times we see athletes skip lunch to finish last-minute schoolwork, hang out with their friends or simply because nothing appeals to them at lunch.  They either arrive to practice way under-fueled or they may grab fast - food on the way to practice or a game.  Either situation usually leads to a sluggish athlete and sub-optimal practice.

There is only so much we, as the parent, the coach, the dietitian, the trainer, the (fill in the blank) can do, but we can at least help explain to our athletes what an impact their food & drink choices throughout the day have on their practices and performances.  After talking we should then show them how to take this information and make it tangible.  We can work with them to find fueling healthy snack and lunch options that they can take with them to school, keeping in mind that this is going to have to be a compromise.  The meal or snack can be super healthy, but if they won't eat it, the health factor does not matter.  When working with your athletes you should:

  1. Go through the kind of foods they need to fuel (carbs, protein, a little healthy fat).
  2. Have them pick out food that they WILL EAT out of the list you created together.
  3. Help the athletes assemble their meal and snack bag for the day.

Get started assembling fueling meals & snacks with the below general guidelines and examples...

PICK A FEW WHOLE GRAINS

  • favorite low sugar whole grain cereal
  • whole grain bread, pasta, wrap
  • Whole grain crackers

PICK 2 FRUITS

  • favorite fresh fruit
  • favorite dried fruit

PICK 2 VEGETABLES 

  • raw veggies
  • cooked veggies 

PICK 2 PROTEINS 

  • poultry / fish (salmon or tuna for a bonus of healthy fats) / lean beef
  • beans / tofu / eggs

PICK 1 - 2 DAIRY ITEMS

  • low-fat plain milk or chocolate milk
  • low-fat yogurt
  • low-fat cottage cheese
  • cheese slices / sticks

PICK SOME HEALTHY FAT

  • avocado
  • nuts & seeds
  • nut butter or seed butter (like sun butter for those with a nut allergy)
  • olive oil / olive oil - based salad dressings
  • if you choose salmon or tuna as your protein, you will also be getting some healthy fat

PICK A FLUID

  • WATER
  • low-fat milk
  • smoothies
  • Gatorade (for during or after intense practices in the high heat)
  • 100% fruit juice (for added calories)
  • remember that foods like fruits & vegetables, yogurts, applesauce & soups also contribute fluid

PICK A "QUICK FUEL" ITEM

  • dried fruit
  • fresh fruit
  • pretzels
  • graham crackers
  • juice box
  • toast (white bread) with jam 
  • low fiber, low protein granola bar

PUT ALL OF THESE SUGGESTIONS TOGETHER FOR ....

  • Turkey & cheese wrap with lettuce, tomato, hummus + an apple
  • Tuna salad (made with a mix of light mayo & mustard) + crackers + grapes
  • Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich
  • Salad with fresh veggies, grilled chicken + vinaigrette dressing
  • Bean and veggie soup 
  • Cooked oatmeal made with low-fat milk, cinnamon, about 1 tsp of honey and fresh fruit on top
  • Bowl of cereal with low-fat milk topped with fresh fruit
  • Toaster waffle sandwich (with peanut butter and jelly)
  • Cottage cheese with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, turkey slices and a dash of salt & pepper
  • Chicken salad (see my Confetti Chicken Salad Recipe to be posted next week!) with whole grain crackers and fruit
  • Cooked whole - wheat pasta spirals with roasted tomatoes, oregano, thyme and ground turkey + fresh fruit
  • Mexican Salad Bowl:  1/2 cup cooked quinoa + 1 cup cooked veggies + 1/2 cup black beans (rinsed & drained) + 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro + 1/4 cup salsa mixed in + 1/4 cup low-fat feta
  • Trail mix made with unsalted dry roasted almonds, dried cherries and whole grain cereal
  • Graham crackers topped with nut butter & dried cherries or raisins
  • Hardboiled eggs + carrot slices & hummus + an apple
  • Whole grain granola bar (I like Kashi, some KIND bars, Larabar, & some varieties of NuGo Slim) + low fat Greek yogurt.

I hope this gives you a little guidance as to how to help you and your athlete eat for afternoon and evening practices and games.  Follow it strictly or use it as a base to create your own delicious and energizing meals and snacks.

Happy Fueling!