As a working mom of three young athletes, club coach, former collegiate player, and running enthusiast, I know how essential good nutrition is to feeling good and keeping up with my family’s fast-paced life. This was highlighted for me when I recently got an email from one of my player’s parents. Her oldest daughter has an athlete’s heart and this is their first year stepping into the world of premier level competition. Being a great mom, she’s done everything to get her daughter started off right: bought new cleats for both firm ground and field turf, fitted them with insoles, purchased the uniform kit, created a little training zone in the backyard, driven endless hours already this summer to training sessions and cheered her daughter endlessly from the sidelines in the few tournaments she’s already played. But she was left with one big question: If I’ve done everything I can on the outside, how can I help her on the inside?
And that boils down to simple Sports Nutrition.
It should be easy, after all, we all know runners “carb load” the night before a big race and that’s as easy as a plate of spaghetti. But it can be a little more complex than that when you add in multi-day competitions, such as tournaments, with perhaps even multiple matches in a day. And, we’re talking kids. Kids who can be picky about what they want to eat. Kids who don’t like to drink plain water. Kids who work their little bodies harder than many adults do and have little stored away energy to spare.
So here’s some “keep it simple” sports nutrition suggestions for parents to keep in mind. And a few recipes ideas to apply this nutrition advice to your real soccer family life!
Night Before Dinner: Healthy dose of complex carbs is a great base for long burn energy. I also strongly encourage an emphasis on protein at this time as well to feed the muscles before all that work the next day. Complete the meal with fruits and veggies, I understand this can be hard with some kids so give them what they'll eat (mine love steamed broccoli and raw carrots and will eat just about any berry or melon so we always have those on hand). Hydration is key so encourage a little extra fat from a drink like milk but skip the sugars of juice (since you're having fruit) and then push water consumption.
Dinner Ideas: Whole wheat pasta with extra lean ground beef mixed into their favorite pasta sauce (or cooked as meatballs) with a side of their favorite veggie or fruit and glass of low fat milk as well as a glass of water. Try this Baked Meatball Marinara recipe that’s fast, affordable and perfect to feed a family. Or sneak in those veggies with our “Veggified” Spaghetti & Meatballs!
Another surprisingly good meal option is a nice lean homemade burger patty (93% lean ground beef, or leaner, is ideal) on whole wheat bun with a slice of cheddar cheese, a small side salad or fruit salad make this a really complete meal. A summer staple meal in our house is grilled Lean & Mean Cheeseburgers. And if you’re wondering if you should substitute ground turkey for ground beef, I’d suggest you check out The Burger Battle and keep that sub on the bench if you’re looking for a powerful nutrition package.
Game Day Breakfast: Encourage another dose of protein from eggs or a lean breakfast meat option, or maybe some cheese. Again, carbohydrates are encouraged but avoid those typical sugary breakfast pastries and instead go with something whole grain if possible and fruit, especially berries and melon which help with hydration. A big glass of water should accompany this meal, and then send them from the table with a water bottle in hand to sip on until it’s time to warm up. Keeping this meal simple and light but full of fuel will start their day of competition off right.
Breakfast Ideas: A breakfast sandwich always seems to be our pre-game go to. I let the kids choose their fillings but it’s typically whole wheat toast or English muffin scrambled egg cheese slice of deli meat. I especially like this Beef & Cream Cheese Bagelwich when I’m headed out the door to coach for the day.
Basic Country Beef Breakfast Sausage is ideal to make ahead of time and toss into scrambled eggs or Beef Sausage & Egg Muffin Cups which are a sneaky way to make breakfast the night before and save you some time in the morning.
Between Game Meals: Between games some kids are ravenous and others need to let their stomachs settle a bit. I've got two kids that have very different eating patterns during competition plus a little one that could eat all day, so I'm typically loaded with snack options. Keeping meals light but focused on refueling their exhausted muscles is key. For the most part, protein is what is needed most immediately following a match (within 30 minutes if possible) as well as some carbs to start rebuilding the stores for the next day. Keep protein at the top of your list for both snacks and mid day meals during competition days. And of course, more water.
Snacks Ideas: I always have on hand bags of beef jerky because it’s is lean and light and the brine used to preserve it is actually a lot like electrolytes you find in sports drinks (salt and sugar). Eating something salty also helps a young athlete feel thirsty so they’re inclined to drink more during this snack. For more Protein on the Go ideas, check out the Protein Challenge.
Cut fruits and veggies encourage hydration and provide carbohydrates. Dips such as peanut butter or hummus encourage the veggie/fruit eating and add back some much-needed healthy fats from their big calorie burn.
Lunch Ideas: Sandwiches are no surprise here, peanut butter and jelly or lean deli meat with a little cheese are both kid-friendly and easy to pack to the field.
Wraps are nice for keeping the meal a little lighter, but plus up the carb intake by working in fruits and know that when you're done for the day dinner needs to provide much-needed carbs. My kids really like MuShu Steak & Apple Wraps, which I make super easy and packable by using deli roast beef instead of steak. And this basic Roast Beef & Veggie Wrap has been a long time favorite in our house.
Dining out is going to happen, so here’s some tips for keeping those meals focused on refueling your young athlete.
I hope these tips help you and the young soccer players in your life enjoy a summer filled with lots of soccer and delicious food.