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Game on: What kids should eat to be sports ready

8/29/2019 by Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD


When you have kids in sports, getting them to and from practices, team meetings and games and tournament is almost a part-time job. Making sure they're fed to fuel their bodies for peak performance and good health is an added challenge. But it's one you can handle with a few simple steps and tips!

First, planning is essential. By taking a few minutes to plan quick, healthy family meals, keeping filled water bottles on hand and prepackaging an assortment of snacks will make it easier to dash out the door. 

Those healthy meals create the daily nutrition foundation for kids. Pre- and post-activity snacks provide quick energy and supplement meals, not replace them. 

One of these mini meals or snacks will give kids a pre-game or practice boost; make sure they munch on them one to four hours before exercise: 

  • Peanut butter and sliced banana on bread and a yogurt smoothie
  • Oatmeal with dried or fresh fruit and sliced almonds or walnuts
  • Low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt with granola and a piece of fruit
  • Sliced turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich and fruit
  • Yogurt with cereal or granola
  • Apple or banana with nut butter
  • Dairy-based smoothie

Thirty to 60 minutes before exercise, foods that are low in fat and fiber will improve tolerance and stamina:

  • Piece of fruit, crackers or jam sandwich
  • Fruit puree pouch, such as applesauce

Kids on a traveling team or heading out of town for a tournament? When you're on the road, kids can still eat for performance and good health. Food items to pack include dried or fresh fruits, nuts/seeds, sliced vegetables, peanut or other nut butter sandwiches, dry ready-to-eat cereals, string cheese or light yogurt. Here are some ideas for navigating away-from-home meals:

  • At a Mexican eatery, order a burrito or soft tacos with grilled veggies, whole grains/beans and lean meat or tofu. 
  • At a fast-food place, choose a grilled chicken sandwich or hamburger or veggie burger with tomato and lettuce, fruit and low-fat milk. 
  • At a sub sandwich restaurant, choose a lean-protein option (turkey, chicken, roast beef, tuna) on whole-grain bread with loads of vegetables. 

Whether you're at home or on the road — hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Like fueling with food throughout the day, adequate hydration starts in the morning and continues all day. For events under an hour, water is sufficient. Provide sports drinks to replace fluids and electrolytes during vigorous physical activity that lasts more than an hour or when temperatures are hot. 

Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietitian at Mayo Clinic working in pediatric and adult nutrition, with a focus on preventive care, sports nutrition and weight management.