As a mother of boys who play soccer, I witness some children with full out speed and energy that doesn’t seem to waiver and others that are seriously struggling to keep up. As I sit on the sidelines listening to parents get frustrated with their child, screaming for them to stop walking, to hustle, to stop standing and move, I can’t help but wonder what did they feed their child before the game?
Sure at times, children are going to be a bit lazy and maybe tired from the night before and that will frustrate us parents to no end. But there’s a difference when you see children really struggling with their energy and can’t keep up with the game.
You see your child start the game off with great energy and drive but then towards the half, they seem to run out of steam. After halftime, you feel excited as they are playing hard again but very soon they seem to have just given up. Sound familiar?
Why does this happen? In the beginning, they are going hard – full out, but then soon their body starts to run out of energy. At halftime, they get to recharge for a moment and come back with what seems the same energy they had at the start of the game. But because their body has nothing left to use in terms of food/energy, they physically cannot keep going at the speed in which they started. They are pushing and their body is pushing back harder and they are forced to slow down.
Their growing bodies need the proper nutrition to support the game. Let’s say they started their day with cereal, bagel, pop-tart or breakfast bar, etc. For lunch, they had a bite of their chicken or hamburger but ended up eating all the fries or chips and drinking a ton of soda and said ugh I’m full! Thirty minutes later they are raiding the pantry for a snack and end up with more junk. When it’s time to play their highly competitive game, this child will suffer majorly with a lack of energy.
Why? Because the majority of what they ate was carbs and mainly processed carbs. Our bodies digest these very quickly and yes do help with energy but only for a short time. Once this energy is used up, our bodies are looking for longer lasting fuel. If none is onboard, our performance takes a hit and we crash hard.
So how can we support our children’s nutrition and enhance their performance?
It starts with protein, make sure your child gets adequate protein the night before along with all meals leading up to the game. Protein is a great source of energy, supports the metabolism and maintains or grows muscle mass. Strive for good quality protein in whole foods such as chicken, pork, beef, seafood, quality deli meats, and eggs.
Next, make sure your child is getting good quality fats in each meal. This is important because fats are the largest source of energy for our bodies. They are much denser than protein and carbs and take longer for our bodies to break down. They also support our brain and help us to focus and think clearly. Can you see how this is helpful in a game? Great sources of fats are dairy, salmon, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil and olive oil.
Lastly, carbs are important but let’s think of carbs in terms of whole nutrient dense carbs. Veggies are super important to support the digestive system and are loaded with tons of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Can you imagine trying to play a game feeling bloated and heavy? It’s important to keep the digestive system moving.
Then you have more carb dense veggies that will take a little longer to break down, therefore, providing their bodies with longer lasting energy. Think beans along with starchy carbs such as potatoes, corn, many root veggies, etc. Also whole grains like oats, rice, quinoa.
Fruits are a great source of quick energy, your child could eat a banana or an orange before the game starts or at half time. This will give them a little extra insurance of energy.
So what’s the best way to put this all together? Here are some ideas but I have honed in on Breakfast because it is the first meal of the day. It is the platform in which we start to build up energy in our bodies. There are many choices for breakfast even for the pickiest eater, trust me I have one :)!!
- Eggs with bacon/sausage and potatoes
- Scrambled eggs with veggies or smoked salmon and cream cheese (for the child with a more advanced palate)
- Breakfast taco with corn tortilla and avocado
- Bean and cheese taco with Milk
- Oatmeal with yogurt and berries mixed in and an egg on the side
- Protein smoothie: 1 cup of Whole Milk, 1/2 banana, cocoa powder, maple syrup or honey and peanut butter (great option for an early game and pair with 1/2 a protein bar)
- Protein Pancakes – Kodiak Power Cakes – Protein Pancake and Waffle Mix, you can add an egg and milk to increase the protein. Our boys LOVE them. – Side note, my picky eater will take the pancake or waffle add some cheese and bacon and make a sandwich. I can’t complain here because he’s getting adequate protein and carbs from the pancakes and fats from the cheese and bacon.
Any whole protein paired with some veggies and a starchy carb add in some nuts/seeds or avocado. Drizzle veggies with a little olive oil and salt
The Night Before An Early Morning Game
Pair a protein with a something a little more starchy like pasta. This is a great way to get energy stored and on board for an early morning game.
Timing of Meal Before a Game
It’s optimal for a child to eat a really good meal 1 1/2 – 2 hours before the game. You want them to feel full but not stuffed and then pack a banana and/or orange and see how they feel before they beginning warm up. If they feel good to go, then have them eat their fruit at halftime.
How To Get Your Child To Comply With Eating
Explain to your child how eating a good meal will help give them energy and how that energy will help them to play hard throughout the whole game!!
Trust me, I understand the pushback you might receive at first but all you have to do is point out their poor performance. Explain it could have been avoided if they would have eaten all the important foods that provide them energy.
And after the game, if you want to give them a treat, then go for it. This is the perfect opportunity for their body to take in that quick sugar and restore the glycogen lost in their muscles. But please do follow up the treat quickly with an appropriate meal. Recovery after a game is very important to an athlete’s body.
So please remember if your child is struggling on the field take a moment and go over what they ate before the game. Think about this before you start asking them to work harder. Each game is an opportunity to evaluate how their nutrition supported their performance.
Here’s to our little athletes! I wish them all success in their sport!
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