Nutrition Corner: Tips for keeping kids at peak performance this spring sports season

April 19th, 2016 1:07 pm

The sun is shining later into the evening and kids are out swinging bats and running races. Mom, it’s tough to know the right foods to offer your children before and after a game as well as the right drinks to have on hand to hydrate and rehydrate. Even if your child doesn’t play after school sports, good foods and proper fluid replacement can improve your child’s academics.

Brain cells, like muscle cells, require the necessary nutrients to perform. Having the necessary energy and fluid available improves performance, minimizes injuries and gives that “get up and go” feeling.

Students should drink throughout the day and prior to practice or games. Examples of good choices are water, low-fat milk and 50 percent diluted juices. Take a look at the drink label. The number of grams of carbohydrate should be less than 19 grams per 8 ounce serving and no caffeine. Water is best!

Most youth are not concerned about the color of their urine, but this is the key to monitoring their hydration. This is a simple activity to teach them. Youth need to be drinking enough fluids so that the color of their urine is clear. Cut a fresh lemon. Squeeze the lemon and collect the juice into a clear jar. This is the desired color of a well-hydrated athlete. Next pour apple juice into another clear jar. This is an example of an athlete who is dehydrated.

If students have a game after school, it is recommended to eat 2-3 hours before the game or practice begins. If they have an early lunch, pack a snack.

The best foods to offer for pre-game snacks and meals are breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats such as turkey, chicken. Candy and high sugared cookies are not recommended. Avoid high-fat, high-fiber, and high-gas forming foods. Check the nutrition facts label and ingredient list of snack foods for added sugars and fats.

After the game or practice, pack another high carbohydrate food like yogurt, fruit and graham crackers to replenish the muscle glycogen they used. Students should eat a full meal within two hours.

It’s tough to remember to pack foods that help them play a better sport. Involve them in the food selection and packing to ease up your time and ensure that it will be eaten.

Try this pre-game and post-game snack to boost your child’s energy and performance, both athletic and academic. Pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants and a very high quality protein. The raisins and cranberries sweeten the mix a bit and give additional nutrients.

Roasted pumpkin seed snack mix

2 cups crispy rice or wheat cereal squares

1/2 cup roasted whole pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup raisins

Mix all ingredients together and place in individual serving sized baggies for easy packing. Makes 8 servings. Enjoy.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford Counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at