Chips, soda and candy…these were the three food groups that my friends and I typically indulged in after a long, hard-fought game of basketball or football. No, we didn’t go to the nearest store and stock up on candy; it was always the team mom who provided the unhealthy sweets to the players after a game. Still to this day, you can go to most youth sporting events, whether it’s soccer, football, basketball or a baseball game and I can almost guarantee that there is a team parent passing out refreshments after the game, that’s probably not particularly healthy. It’s no secret that before or after a game, the best food to eat is probably not ‘junk food’.
In order to help your athlete reach maximum potential there are certain foods that they should be eating before and after games. “A pre-game meal should be eaten three to four hours before the game as this allows for optimal digestion and energy supply. Most authorities recommend small pre-game meals that provide 500 to 1,000 calories depending on the kid’s age and size. The meal should be high in starch, which breaks down more easily than protein and fats. The starch should be in the form of complex carbohydrates (breads, cold cereal, pasta, fruits and vegetables). High-sugar foods lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a decline in blood sugar and less energy.” (Nutrition for the Athlete, J. Anderson; L. Young; and S. Prior) This same formula for the pre-game meal should be followed for the post game meal as well. It’s recommended that an athlete eats at least thirty minutes after a competitive game.
In today’s day and age with computers, video games and cell phones, many people assume that youth participation in sports is down from decades before, however that is not the case. It’s estimated that roughly 44 million kids in the US are participating in organized sports (about 400 of them are coming from our youth basketball league, Biddy Ball) Although playing a sport means that kids are moving around and being active, it does not always correlate with being physically fit. Studies conducted by the Univ. of Minnesota showed that kids who are physically active are just as likely to be overweight. The study concluded that nearly one in four young athletes’ ages 8 – 16 is overweight. This is because of the high calorie, quick, easy, unhealthy snacks and foods that are given to the athletes.
Think about this, when is the last time you went to the snack bar at a youth sporting event and ordered a fruit? Probably never. Youth sports have been built around a culture of sugary drinks and popcorn, nachos and assorted candies. I get it, it’s easy, convenient and cheap but at what cost is it affecting your athlete’s ability to compete. Too many times parents ignore the poor eating habits because they assume that since their child is physically active that it balances the unhealthy eating out. This is not the case; eating properly before and after a game goes hand in hand in giving an athlete the extra energy needed to compete. As I got older, I completely stopped eating pre-game meals and I felt like I had no energy late into games. After games, my father would often call me and ask what’s going on? Little did I know that something as simple as eating properly and hydrating correctly would provide me with the extra focus and attention needed to compete at a high level.
Here at Manassas Park, Parks and Recreation we are all about promoting healthy lifestyles that not only include being physically active but teaching how to eat nutritious meals as well. We have been proactive in our approach and formed a Health, Wellness and Livable Communities Committee made up of entirely volunteers from the community who have several different backgrounds in health. (Side note, if you are interested in joining this committee please contact me, and we would love to have you join) One of our goals that we set up for this winter is to include health and nutrition classes. While you’re here for your child’s basketball game or practice, we invite you to come join in on one the classes and learn about the foods that will not only benefit your future superstar but you as well. Nutrition classes are just one program that the health and wellness committee is organizing, we have several different events and classes planned throughout the winter and spring to help keep you active, motivated and educated. Be on the lookout for flyers, and future Facebook posts advertising our events. Until next time…be healthy!
Tony Thomas is the Recreation Services Supervisor of the Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Community Matters is a blog created by the City of Manassas Park Department of Parks and Recreation. The blog features program updates, announcements of new services, special event notices, or information of general interest.
Parts of this article contain information from “Nutrition for the Athlete by J. Anderson, L. Young and S. Prior; 12/10) and “Concession stand snacks at youth sports could outweigh health benefits” by Michele Munz 6/28/12