Youth soccer players have a busy schedule and options for eating are limited. The convenience of stopping at one of the notorious fast food joints that are on every corner tends to be inviting for the parent that may be low on funds or time.
The importance of avoiding these temptations remains at an all-time high while players striving to perform at their best. Maintaining a healthy diet that rids yourself of any food high in calories should be avoided at all costs.
It’s not necessarily the fast food restaurant that is of concern, it’s what is ordered at that restaurant. Fast food establishments have come a long way from where they were years ago and just about all of them offer at least one menu item that will fit into a healthy eating plan.
Look for items that provide a combination of carbohydrates and protein, as well as some fats. For example, most offer a grilled chicken sandwich, some sort of mixed salad, fruit, and water. That meal makes up the combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats that teenage athletes need, not only to fuel their body for growth and development but to fuel their sport as well.
Make sure to eat a nourishing meal the evening before a match. You won’t be using the energy from this meal until the next day, so skip the simple sugars and eat more complex carbohydrates. Despite popular belief, it’s not necessary to stuff yourself full of carbohydrates. The goal is to load, not explode, your muscles with fuel. Choose ample complex carbohydrates, moderate protein and load up on fluids. Chicken or beef fajitas with a side of rice, vegetables, fruit and coconut water is one example.
Fueling for back-to-back matches requires some thought in terms of what and how much to eat. The most important consideration is how much time you have between performance. If the next match is not for 2-3 hours, you have plenty of time to eat a balanced meal, making sure to keep the fat and fiber intake low. Pack a sandwich such as a turkey and cheese or nut butter and jelly sandwich with a piece of fruit, If the next game starts in an hour or less, focus on quick-digesting carbohydrates; raw or dried fruits, applesauce cups, fig bars, rice cakes, yogurt, or sports drinks are all options.
Coolers and ice packs should be a part of your sporting equipment. Just as shoes and sport gear go in a gym bag, fuel and hydration go in your cooler. Load it up with nourishing choices for the day such as plain or Greek yogurt, sandwiches, sports drinks, bottled water, fruits, vegetables and any other foods you want to eat during your time away from home.
Parents can encourage healthy eating behaviors in children by first modeling those desired behaviors. Children mimic the behaviors of the adults in their lives. Therefore, if you want your child to eat healthy, work to set a good example.
Eat family meals together as often as possible. Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of eating, so do your part by planning healthy meals and snacks at set, regular meal and snack times. Encourage eating at the table as a family and not in front of the TV, while distracted or in the car. As long as parents do their part – the what, when and where of feeding – children are responsible for deciding how much to eat and whether or not to eat at all.
Make eating a pleasant and positive experience. Introduce new or healthy foods to your child in a fun and positive way and never nag children or make negative comments about a child’s eating habits. This only makes things worse. Offer, but don’t force! The more you pressure your child to eat a certain food, the less likely your child will be to eat that food. On the other hand, the more you restrict certain foods, it’s more likely your child will want that food.