With back to school upon us, I typically post some lunchbox ideas for kids. This year, I wanted to try something a little different and talk about sports snack packs.
Both of my girls do as many activities as they can possibly cram in- cross country, drama, soccer, softball, leadership… almost every afternoon they have something to do and somewhere to be. I take after school snacks very seriously because they really need quality fuel to power through until dinner.
For sports snacks I try to keep things healthy and I try to have a mix of calcium, protein and carbs. The calcium is good for strong bones and when kids play competitive sports you want to do everything to prevent injuries, the protein builds and repairs muscles (I try not to overdo it as protein can be dehydrating and takes longer to digest), and carbohydrates- these are key to keeping long term sustained energy.
Obviously I try to avoid refined sugar and processed foods. When my girls were little and just did one hour practices, the overall nutrition wasn’t super important. Now that they are older and regularly do strenuous exercise for 90 min to 2 hours, I put a lot more thought into their snacks.
If you also have a young athlete, here are a few ideas of snacks that should boost their energy.
Please note this article is based on listening to endless podcasts, reading lots of articles and a few books. I am not a sports nutritionist or dietary expert. Also what works well for one kid, may not work for the next. Just a few suggestions that seem to work for us and the reasons why I choose the items I did.
Cheese, Blueberries, pretzels. This is a lighter snack perfect for the 15 minutes between school and cross country practice. Blueberries have iron, fiber and calcium and have been found to improve coordination and mood. Cheese offers more calcium to prevent stress fractures and the pretzels are a great carb to provide stores of energy to get through practice.
Oranges, Turkey Sandwich, Trail Mix. My kids still love orange slices and they are a super hydrating food. They are sweet but don’t spike blood sugar and provide long term energy. The turkey sandwich is just a half and I used whole wheat bread.
I have read research that whole wheat breads are always best for the fiber but I have also read that whole wheat can be harder to digest and white breads are best for athletes. Jury is out I suppose on what the best option is. I usually go with what we have in the pantry. The turkey has protein to rebuild muscle fibers after vigorous exercise and as many veggies as your child will eat on the sandwich is really great. I have read the vinegar in mustard or pickles/pickle juice can help with replacing electrolytes in athletes so if you can pack those on to a sandwich go for it.
I also popped in a little trail mix with nuts, raisins and a few yogurt raisins as a little treat. Raisins have a quick source of carbohydrates for energy. If your kids love raisins, these are a great alternative to sports chews or gel packs.
Watermelon is always a huge favorite for snacks before or after sports. In fact, I stopped bringing cupcakes and treats for our children’s birthdays years ago and just started bringing cups of watermelon (see how I package them by clicking here and scrolling down) and it is always, always a hit.
I added a little french bread and I’d prefer to have turkey but this particular child will only eat salami so a few slices of Applegate salami it is and a spreadable cheese wedge.
Bars can be great easy snacks- my kids like Kind bars, Luna bars and Clif for Kids bars on occasion but we actually keep a box of these Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars in the car for snack emergencies. Figs do have protein and fiber and this particular brand is slightly sweet but free of processed sugar. I think they are filling and easy on the stomach. Grapes are a great hydrating snack and have been shown to aid with memory and focus, last but not least another pretzel option. These are on the pricey side for a snack food but they are SO good. A favorite in our house. I can only get them at Ace Hardware or I buy them from Amazon here. (Completely random I know. But try them! Seriously!)
This snack is more of a breakfast option for morning training or between early games although I love all these foods so I would eat this at any time of day. When we have testing at school the teachers always ask that students pack apples for snacks as they supposedly give more energy than a caffeinated drink. My girls love apples sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon. Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants and is an anti-inflammatory so I add it to food as often as possible. The egg offers a bit of protein but I have read these are best consumed at least an hour before activity or after workouts/games as they are a little harder on the body to digest. I also added some peanut butter toast- the peanut butter provides long lasting energy (or switch to other nut butters if there are peanut allergies on the team.) Last but not least I have a few Gatorade Chews. I avoided these for a long time because they are heavy on sugar but these were recommended to me recently by a college soccer nutritionist for a halftime snack option. We only use these on game days – when the weather is extremely warm or my daughter is playing multiple games in one day and really using a lot of energy.
And last but not least, I wanted to mention some drink options for athletes- especially when they play a lot or in warmer weather. I constantly harp on my kids to hydrate because it increases focus, helps with recovery and reduces injuries.
Coconut Water is not my kids favorite but I still keep trying to get them to drink it. Coconut water has tons of potassium and is super hydrating. If you have an athlete prone to cramping, this is a great drink to try. I always use coconut water instead of plain water or juices in smoothies.
Chocolate Milk. This is a popular recovery drink for a reason. I always pack chocolate milk to drink right after an intense practice or game and it is a staple during tournament weekends. You want to drink this within 20 minutes of your game or practice ending, not before, to aid with recovery. There is a magic balance of protein and carbs in chocolate milk specifically plus kids usually love it.
Electrolyte supplements. I just started buying these Ultima lemonade flavor packets and pouring them into water bottles for summer. It is a super subtle flavor that both of my kids like- sort of fizzy lemon. You can click here to pick these up or I find them at Whole Foods or Sprouts at the checkout line. I only use these on higher intensity days- for example my 12 year old has a 90 minute soccer practice tomorrow in 100 degree heat so she will take one Hydroflask with ice water and one with this supplement mixed into her water and she switches to the electrolyte drink midway through practice.
This is not a sponsored post in any way but I did recently find these SnapLock containers and they are working out really well for sports snacks and even dinner to go. They come with two sides that snap together to make it compact, they don’t leak and they have held up well so far. I can’t find my exact container in stock online but there is a Similar option here.
And I know we are all supposed to stop using single use plastics as much as possible- we have eliminated a lot in our house- but I do order these little hand wipes. The single packet is very handy and my children just won’t bother with it if I put a larger pack in their sports bags or hand sanitizer on their backpacks. Click here to take a look at a bulk pack. We use them for lunchboxes too.
I hope some of this is helpful in keeping your little athletes healthy this year. I am most definitely not a sports nutritionist, this is just written from the information I have collected over the years from articles and books and podcasts. If you are looking for more inspiration to feed those kids:
These little crispy bites are hands down my favorite snack and they are so fast to make.