Seven Tips for Healthy Eating at Soccer Tournaments

by Anita Nolan | Last updated

If your child is participating in a soccer tournament, spend a little time beforehand planning what he’ll eat and drink.  The foods he ingests before and during the event will impact affect his performance.

The energy your body uses comes from glucose, a simple type of sugar.  Glucose is stored in the body as glycogen.  Carbohydrates are the easiest way for the body to get quick energy, although proteins and fats provide energy as well.  They’re also necessary to build muscle and create the hormones necessary for life, among other things.

Fats and proteins are more difficult for the body to digest, however.  The amount of energy necessary to digest these nutrients can reduce the energy available for running and sprinting.  And a player’s stomach can become upset if it’s filled with slow-to-digest foods during a game, especially if it’s hot.

When preparing for a tournament, players should eat plenty of carbohydrates in the days leading up to and during the event.  If they don’t have enough glycogen built up in their muscles before the game starts, it can affect their play, particularly in the second half of a game or a second game in a day.  Research has shown that players can deplete nearly all of their glycogen during the course of a game, causing fatigue and reducing running speed.

Here are a few tips to help you manage what your child eats to help them perform their best:

1.  Steer clear of the snack stand. Yes, soccer clubs make money by selling food to their captive audience.  You can support them by buying your own snacks at the concession stand, but limit your child’s purchases to fruit, water or energy drinks, and bagels or other high-carb foods.  Hotdogs, hamburgers, and pizza often aren’t good choices for optimal performance.

2.  Limit or eliminate soda intake during the tournament and for several days leading up to the event.  While soda (at least that which isn’t artificially sweetened), contains plenty of sugar, they provide “empty” calories, meaning they provide no nutrition except energy.  While it’s important to take in plenty of carbs, soda is a poor way to do it.  And while it might seem counterintuitive, soda can cause dehydration.

3.  Plan ahead. Arrive at the tournament with a cooler stocked with healthy and quick-digesting snacks.  If you freeze plastic containers or bags filled with water in advance, (creating large blocks of ice), it will keep the contents of the cooler cold for two to three days, (if you don’t leave it in a hot car or the sun all day).

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a game-day staple.  Pack a jar of peanut butter, jelly, a loaf of bread, plastic knives, and paper plates.  Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on demand.

Other good high-carb, easily-digested foods are bagels—with or without cream cheese—hard pretzels, cold cereal (the individual boxes are a good choice), yogurt, raw vegetables like carrot or celery sticks, and granola or energy bars.

Don’t forget fruit.  Oranges, clementines, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, grapes, peaches, and plums all provide quick energy and some hydration.  Dried fruits, such as dried cranberries or raisins, and individual snack packs of fruit store well.  Bananas are particularly important to have on hand.  The potassium they contain can help prevent cramps.

4.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Dehydration can be a problem, especially on hot, sunny summer days, so take plenty of water.

5.  Foods eaten the evening before a game can impact performance as well. Pizza isn’t a good option.  Look for restaurants that serve high carb foods, such as pasta, for dinner and eat meals at them on evenings prior to games.

6.  Check out the tournament location in advance. (No you don’t have to drive there.)  With Google Maps, you can get an idea of the tournament’s surroundings.  Is it rural?  Suburban?  In which direction is the closest town?  Is there a highway lined with retail stores and restaurants?  Knowing these things might make your hunt for a restaurant—or a place to buy water if you run out—easier.

Google Maps has started identifying businesses in the satellite version, so finding restaurants (you’re NOT looking for fast food places) is easy to do.

A bagel shop or Panera Breads has lighter sandwiches that make a better pre- or between-game meal choice than a hamburger and fries.  Chains such as Panera Breads or The Olive Garden and Carrabba’s Italian Grill also list their locations on their websites.

7. Everything you eat affects your performance. Yes, it’s tough to eat well during a tournament weekend if you haven’t planned ahead, and yes, eating poorly during the weekend will affect your play, but you’re performance is affected by everything you eat.  If you want to play your best, that means eating well every day, not just during the tournament.

With a little advanced preparation, you can make the tournament a smoother experience and help your child perform his best.

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