Q&A: How to Fuel Up for Hockey
A: It’s hard enough to keep busy young athletes full—and it seems impossible when they’re experiencing growth spurts. They wake up hungry, come home from school hungry, go to bed hungry. For help, we called in sports nutritionist Marie Spano.
I completely understand your position. Feeding active children takes time, planning, and sometimes, large quantities of food! The calorie needs of young athletes are so high because they must fuel both growth and physical activity. A few easy tips:
- The bottomless pit: If your children are constantly hungry, with stomachs that seem like bottomless pits, take a close look at what they are eating now. Adding protein and healthy fats—such as peanut butter, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil and guacamole—to their meals and snacks, helps create a bottom for that bottomless pit!
- Keep snacks available at all times: Since hockey rinks inevitably have vending machines and/or snack bars, you have two choices: be nagged and nickel-and-dimed for snacks or be prepared. I choose preparation. Keep a little cooler of snacks and beverages in your car and stick nutrition bars or granola bars in a small pocket in the front of your child’s hockey bag. Work with the coach to ensure the team has sports drinks available while playing.
- Pre-game/practice meals: Try a sandwich, small sub, bowl of cereal, fast-food grilled chicken sandwich, or leftovers—something low in fat and fiber and high in carbohydrates. For younger players such as Mites, offer this meal 2 to 4 hours before the game or practice. As kids get older and the intensity of their games increase, roughly Squirt and up, allow 3 to 4 hours for digestion. Younger kids can consume small meals just a few hours beforehand with no problem. If the older kids get hungry again before a game/practice, keep easily digestible snacks on hand such as PowerBars, Clif Bars, Clif Z Bars and salted pretzels.
- Game-time snacks: Salted pretzels make fantastic snacks between games. They are easy to digest and the salt helps prevent dehydration (kids are more likely than adults to become dehydrated). Other ideas include low-fat granola bars, small bagels with jelly, bananas, dry cereal, nutrition bars (look for ones that are low fat, high carbohydrate, and moderate in protein). Don’t forget sports drinks for hydration—kids tend to drink more when the beverage tastes good—plus these drinks are formulated to help them replace electrolytes.
- Post-game recovery beverage: Flavored (real) milk is one of the best post-game recovery drinks to refuel young athletes. The sugar quickly replaces their depleted carbohydrate stores and the protein helps fuel muscle tissue growth. In addition, milk is the best source of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium. If your child doesn’t drink milk, try string cheese or yogurt.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, for this story. Spano is a sports nutrition expert who works with athletes throughout the country. Her website is: www.mariespano.com.
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