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Fuel for Young Athletes: Pre-Game Eating


Make sure your athlete eats a meal 2-4 hours before his/her event and starts hydrating at that time. The meal should consist of mostly carbohydrates with a small amount of protein. Some examples include oatmeal with honey, raisins or other dried fruit, whole grain cereal + milk + banana, whole wheat sandwich, roll or wrap with turkey, chicken or ham, chicken noodle/vegetable soup with whole wheat bread. If the event is early in the morning, then make it a snack, but DON’T skip breakfast! It can be something small, like a piece of toast with nut butter and a glass of juice, a banana, granola bar, a small smoothie or yogurt… and don’t forget to start hydrating!

Recovery Meals
Recovery snacks are an essential part of sports nutrition., and after all, kids REALLY care about what snack they will have as a team after the game! But it is important to understand the value of the post game snack. This is when Glycogen is formed (the one that fuels your game in a few days), so it’s important to replenish it every day, especially since our kids are training 5-6 days a week! Muscles act like sponges during the 30 minutes after exercise and have the ability to build glycogen 1 and a 1/2 times faster than at other times, so take advantage of this “golden window!” It amuses me (not really!) when I see kids on the field who have been working hard and immediately afterwards are given pizza, cookies, and juice boxes! Much research has gone into this specific time of an athlete’s training, and the consensus is that recovery snacks should have a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrates to protein. Good examples are crackers + cheese + grapes, pita bread + hummus + veggies, smoothies with greek yogurt (I freeze them into popsicles during the summer) and PB & J and a banana. Of course fluids are very important during this window too!

Finally, we get to talk about hydration. I cannot stress the importance of hydration; don’t forget to Sip! Sip! Sip! Young athletes should drink on a schedule, NOT by thirst! By the time your player is thirsty, he/she could be up to 3% dehydrated! They should sip starting a few hours before the game, rather than chugging 16 ounces before going on the field. Water is best, but sports drinks may be needed when prolonged exercise. Aim for 16 ounces 2-3 hours before the game, another 8-12 ounces 1-2 hours before the game, 8 ounces within an hour of play, and as much as possible after the practice/game! Remember, the brain is mostly water, so staying well hydrated will not only help with their muscles but it’s responsible for mental alertness and quick decision-making on the field.

It makes sense to understand the importance of rest when playing sports, but we should realize the extent of it. Rest is essential for kids and teens not only because they’re resting their tired bodies but also because this is an important time in their growth and development. Kids 7-10 years old should sleep 8-10 hours a night, and kids 13 and older should aim for at least 8-9 hours a night.

About Doctor Jacq
Jacqueline Winkelmann, M.D. – known to many as “Doctor Jacq” – is a Board Certified Pediatrician (and Chief of Staff at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital) with a special interest in Childhood Nutrition and Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes. However, Doctor Jacq is not only a Pediatrician and Nutrition Expert – she’s a dedicated Chef and Mother of two young athletes; Ryan, age 8, and ice hockey player, and Megan, 13, a competitive figure skater. Learn more from Doctor Jacq and follow her Blog at

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