Refueling for Spring Sports: Making the Right Choices for Children

With the coming of spring, so begins the season of sports. Soccer season is underway in many parts of the country, as is baseball, softball, lacrosse and tennis. Team sports are a great way for children ages 5 and 6 to learn new skills, get active and make friends.

Along with team sports, there is the inevitable snack table for after the game, practice or match. Well-meaning parents bring children’s favorite foods but often these foods are not the best choices for refueling after physical activity or for health in general. Sugar-filled drinks, chips, cakes, donuts and cookies are not the preferred fuel source. It also sends a wrong message to children to expect these “treats” after every game or practice.

Sports drinks have become more mainstream though their original design and use is for endurance athletes. While many 5- and 6-year-olds run hard during sports, it isn’t enough to warrant the use of sports drinks. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend sports drinks except in certain cases and for older children.

Instead, water is the preferred source of hydration for children, especially active children. Need to jazz up the water to entice your child to drink it? Add sliced fruit such as oranges or strawberries or even cucumber, which gives the water a wonderful, refreshing taste. My son loves it!

As for the snack table, the basics needed are fresh fruit to refuel the body with possibly a little protein mixed in if a meal time isn’t close at hand. Orange slices, grapes and bananas are all easy choices that are child-friendly. Yogurt tubes are another good choice, but choose ones with less than 10 grams of sugar per tube.

Here are some other snack ideas for proper refueling after activity:

  • Hummus and sliced veggies (such as carrots, celery and bell pepper)
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (use soy butter or sunflower butter if nut allergies are a concern)
  • Trail mix

If you need some resources to help you convince your coach or other parents on the team to provide better snack choices, check out fellow dietitian and mom, Sally’s, Real Mom Nutrition’s Snactivism Handbook. There are links to sample letters to the coach and team. She even created a great video chronicling the need for better choices.

What is your child’s favorite healthy snack?

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