By Randee Ochinero
If you ask your athletes what they’re eating through the day, you’re most likely going to get answers that range from basically nothing to a menagerie of calorie dense (nutrient sparse) foods. Frustrating right? Being a student is hard enough, then to expect athletic performance on top of that while underfueling, we’re practically begging for failure.
What if I told you that the fix for this slump is three easy steps that take very little effort from your athletes? Use these three tips to teach your athletes how to prevent those energy crashes by fueling properly throughout the day. Teaching them to eat regular meals and snack before and right after practice, you can eliminate those practice zombies and have the energy level you’re looking for day after day.
Eating throughout the day is one easy thing athletes can do to keep their energy up. Eating breakfast, lunch or one or two snacks will keep blood levels stable, provide necessary nutrients and minimize the chances of hitting the vending machines before practice. Each meal should contain protein (eggs, meat, beans, yogurt), carbohydrates (grains) and ideally a serving of fruits or vegetables.
What this could look like is a breakfast of eggs with avocado or nut butter toast and greek yogurt, a lunch of a cheese and chicken wrap or sandwich with an apple, carrots and possibly a small bag of chips. Balancing something like a bowl of cereal with yogurt can be a great way to get athletes to lunch where they can continue to make smart choices
Athletes should not be skipping meals, ever. This may mean waking up a little earlier, packing lunches from home or being more selective in the lunch room. Perfection isn’t necessary here, just stress the importance of eating nutrient dense foods through the day to get them through a great practice.
Snack Before Practice
Smart snacking choices can help provide an energy boost right before practices. For many of us, we have practice after the end of school which could leave athletes 3+ hours from lunch and starting to dip in energy.
A great snacking equation is 1:1. A simple carb and a protein will provide quick energy and help muscles grow and recover. However, even just a simple carb snack will help athletes get over that energy drain and get through practice. Some 1:1 snacks include yogurt, apples and cheese or deli meat, hard boiled eggs or even a protein/smoothie drink. Other great snacks include granola bars, rice krispy treats, fruit/veggie puree packs, bananas, or even chocolate milk.
After practice snacks tend to be the favorite in my gym. You can ultimately go two ways with this – a fun food that is calorie dense but not nutrient dense or a nutritious snack to decrease recovery time. Both are great options and there isn’t really a wrong answer.
Sometimes, especially during camps or two a days, I like to bring popsicles for the end of practice. They’re cooling, provide carbohydrates for recovery and the kids love them. Another good option is chocolate milk, or when getting post game meals – chocolate milkshakes. The perk with chocolate milk/milkshakes is you’re replenishing carbohydrates and giving muscles the protein needed to start repairing from practice.
The 1:1 equation also works for post practice snacks – one serving of carbohydrates and one serving of lean protein. There is an assumption athletes will be eating dinner shortly after, so a small snack is appropriate.
Ultimately, making a few small changes to how athletes are fueling throughout the day can yield big results for your teams. Gone are the days of scraping practice plans and hitting your head on the wall in frustration at the lack of energy. By eating throughout the day and snacking before and after practice, athletes will be able to handle whatever practice you’ve planned that day!
Want an easy snacking guide you can share with players and parents?