When you're planning pre-game meals for your child or teen, the last thing you want is an upset stomach or a loss of energy. But popular strategies, like carb-loading, could deliver just that. So, before a big game, tournament, or competition, make sure you avoid nutritional no-nos like these.
Don't Eat These Pre-Game Meals
- A cheeseburger: Fatty foods like red or processed meats and full-fat dairy products can slow down your athlete's digestion, which will be uncomfortable during athletic activity.
- A giant brownie: Sweets and desserts (anything containing a lot of sugar) will cause your child's blood sugar to spike. That means she is likely to experience a burst of energy followed by a steep crash. Time that wrong and it could spike her chances of performing well too.
- Black beans, brown rice, and a salad: This sounds like a healthy option, and most of the time it is. Foods rich in fiber, like legumes, whole grains, and leafy vegetables, are usually a smart choice. Dietary fiber helps us feel full and can lower cholesterol levels. It can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. And fiber helps keep the digestive tract moving. That's usually a good thing, but during a vigorous workout, it could work a little too well and cause stomach upset or diarrhea. Some fiber is fine; too much is a problem.
- A fancy coffee drink: The combo of sugar and caffeine here could also cause stomach issues and/or an energy crash. The same goes for energy drinks (which are never a good idea for kids, anyway).
- A big plate of pasta, hold the sides: Starches, like those found in pasta, white rice, white bread, and so on, do provide kids' bodies with energy. But these carbs also release their energy quickly, as sugary foods do, so they can cause a post-digestive slump. While carbs are okay—they're necessary, in fact!—there is no need to pile on extra carbs before a game or workout. Keep them as part of a balanced overall diet instead.
- A dish he/she never tried before: Normally we celebrate when a kid branches out and tries new food. But the pre-game meal isn't the right time for this. New or unusual foods could cause an upset stomach or some other adverse reaction. Test them out when the stakes are lower.
Maximize the Nutrition in Pre-Game Meals
You'll fuel up your athlete best when you make sure her pre-game meals include these nutrients. Basically, an everyday diet should suffice, as long as it's healthy and well-balanced every day!
- Plenty of water: Your child needs to drink lots of water before, during, and after games and practices. This will help prevent dehydration and heat illness.
- Carbohydrates: Lots of good stuff falls into this category, from whole grains to fruits and vegetables of all sorts. Just watch the fiber and sugar content. Carbs are essential to power up your child's workout.
- Protein and fat: When combined with carbs, fat and protein help provide the steady, long-lasting energy your athlete needs for performance.
When to Eat Pre-Game Meals
This chart, adapted from the Coaching Association of Canada, makes it easy to see how pre-game nutrition affects your player.
Your child's day-to-day diet is usually just fine, but you'll want to take special care before big games or all-day meets when they'll need lots of strength, energy, and stamina.
Remember, too, that most kids don't really need half-time or post-game snacks, or sports drinks (unless they are sweating profusely). They just need plenty of water. If they do eat during a game, it should be something quick and easy to digest, such as fruit.
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