What healthy snacks or meals should I eat before a game or practice?
We hear this question – but perhaps not often enough. Having coached youth sports I see more bad habits than I would like; candy bars, high sugar content drinks and other “not so good” food choices.
Here are some general rules of thumb to foll for pre-game snacks, pre-game meals, pre-practice snacks:
- One meal is not going to make up for a generally poor eating habits. But for the most part, like most things in life, you need to strive for balance in your everyday diet. This is easier said then done with youth players. The greater effect on performance is really what you ate leading up to the game or practice – not what you eat or drink right before a game.
- The idea that most people think of when considering what to eat before a practice or a game is to eat in order to provide “energy”. Ideally you want to eat so you have energy to carry you through the game, but you don’t want to eat so that you feel too full and/or experience discomfort.
- Generally, a snack taken before an activity will help fuel you for that practice or game (depending on how long the sport lasts), and also help you from becoming over hungry after the workout.
- It usually takes our bodies about 3 or 4 hours to digest a moderate sized meal and about one or two hours to process a light snack (these numbers depend a lot on the type of food you’re eating, not to mention your very own metabolic rate). It’s a good idea to allow some time for digestion prior to any strenuous activity.
- If you have practice or a game late in the afternoon, eat breakfast and lunch. Include plenty of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain cereals, fruit, and vegetables. These replace muscle glycogen (our bodies’ storage form of carbohydrates), and are important, especially if you exercise every day. Without replacing glycogen, your muscles will feel weak and performance may suffer.
- Hydration is critical to performance – generally speaking youth athletes are not properly hydrated throughout the day and when you add n a practice or game it tips the scales even further. Keep in mind, our muscles are approximately 70 percent water. So it should go without saying that you need to keep the muscles hydrated in order to perform. Dehydrated muscles don’t do so well, are dangerous and often times lead to cramps. The key is to drink water throughout the day (we send our son into school with a water bottle that he sips throughut the day).
- Eat healthy snacks or energy providing foods between larger meals. Try not to go longer than 4 hours without eating - professional athletes often times eat 5-6 smaller meals a day.
- Healthy foods and pre-game or pre-practice snacks:
- fruit (e.g., bananas, oranges, apples, or grapes)
- fruit juices (watered down, use half water half fruit juice)
- unsalted crackers
- graham crackers
- plain bagels (no topping ie., butter, cream cheese…)
- non- or low-fat yogurt
- pretzels (preferably with little or no salt)
- low-fat soup, such as vegetable
- Avoid foods high in fat, protein, and fiber. These types of foods typically take longer to digest.
- Avoid trying out a new food before a competitive event… You never know what effect it might have on you, instead experiment before practices, where there might be less at stake.