Kids may not seem to care about their pregame diet, but you can bet they care about how they feel and perform on the playing field – and when, what and how they eat before exercising can have a lot to do with their performance.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that eating a large meal before exercising is not a good idea – upset stomach and cramping are common because the body’s muscles and digestive system are competing with each other for the body's resources. The body can digest food while a person is active, but not as well as it can when not exercising. The blood is trying to do two jobs at once.
Not eating before exercise, though, can be just as bad as eating too much. Low blood sugar levels can cause weakness, and mental abilities may be affected as well, causing slower reaction times.
The purpose of the pregame meal is to add to the body's energy reserves and prevent hunger pangs—without causing an upset stomach.
WHAT TO EAT
Designer diets aside, kids (and adults) will feel better when exercising after a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat. That's true for an intense soccer game or a casual romp on the jungle gym. Carbohydrates keep blood sugar normal and fuel muscles during exercise.
Cereals, breads, vegetables, pasta, rice and fruit are good carb sources. Fatty foods take longer to digest than other foods and can cause stomachaches during a game.
Only give kids protein in small amounts before strenuous exercise – it is a poor source of immediate energy, and it contributes to dehydration.
WHEN TO EAT
It’s best to eat a small meal about two or three hours before strenuous exercise. Kids who are hungry immediately before game time can eat a snack. Try rice cakes, crackers, or fruit shortly before the game or practice.
If your child doesn't like to eat solid foods before exercising – or has trouble digesting them – he or she can drink their carbohydrates in the form of sports beverages or fruit juices.
After the game, kids should continue to eat and drink plenty of high-carbohydrate food and drink. Liquid carbohydrate sources, such as juices and even some sports drinks, help avoid dehydration and are fine right after the game. Still, water is generally the best way to replace lost fluid.
What kids eat immediately before, during, and after a game is crucial to how they feel and how they perform.