Fit fitness food for kids...and parents

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Kudos to my 12-year-old son for reminding me what he should eat before his hockey game.  And he knows that he should avoid dairy an hour before game time.  This season his hockey team works out weekly at Athletic Republic in Tempe.  Athletic Republic is a personal training organization that works with individuals and teams on physical fitness activities that can directly improve the athlete’s personal performance  Kids begin training at Athletic Republic typically starting at age nine.

My son’s trainers sent home a flyer that outlines the right foods to eat before and after a game, match, race or other type of fitness event.  I found this so helpful, that I decided to write about it in my column this week. 

In addition to wondering how to feed my son before his hockey games, I also thought about my daughter and the energy she expends on stage.  She sings, dances and acts at our local children’s theater.  She played Cruella di Vil last spring and the theater did three shows in a row.  When I sent her backstage with a snack pack, I wondered if I gave her the right foods to give her enough stamina and brainpower to get through the exciting, but long, day.   I was happy to learn that the same food formula can also be applied to her activities. 

Fitness food fuel 101
For kids, eating the right foods before a game or workout can make all the difference. Athletic Republic facility owner Dr. Kristopher Birkeland, D.C. is one of my son’s favorite trainers.  Dr. Birkeland’s mantra is garbage in, garbage out.  So, taking the extra time and energy to get your kids the right foods for the court, ice, stage or other platform, can really enhance their performance. 

To have the energy necessary to play a two hour game of hockey, soccer or any other youth activity, the body needs calories that will convert to energy.  Carb-rich foods like grains and fruit are a quick source of energy referred to as glycogen that is stored in the muscles that will be used in the game or workout. 

As your child hits that puck or swings that bat, the glycogen in the muscles will be depleted, fluids will be used and muscle tissue breaks down.  That is why a well balanced meal and proper hydration is crucial after the game.  That is something this manic, but managed mom, hadn’t thought of.  I spent a considerable amount of time making food that would carry my son through his game, but I didn’t give much thought to how he should eat after wards.  I’ll cover that in a bit.  Let’s start with the pregame grub.

Pregame grub
Last year, my son’s hockey coach told him no dairy one hour before game time, however milk is a great post-game snack.  Dr.Birkeland told me that dairy takes more time and energy for the body to digest, which can result in the player feeling sluggish.  However,  chocolate milk is a good post game drink and I will explain that further in the next section.  Because our bodies are all different, you may want to try different meal ideas to see which combination your child best responds to.   Ideally, the pre-game meal should be eaten 2-3 hours before game time.   I was not doing that one correctly, as there were times that I would feed my son just one hour before the puck drop.

Dr. Birkeland also says to go for carbohydrate rich foods because carbs are the quickest energy source for the body to process.  Pick a meal plan that is lower in fats and moderate in protein since those foods take longer to digest and can result in an upset tummy. 

Some examples are:
*whole grain cereal like multi-grain Cheerios with 1% milk.  Dr. Birkeland prefers 1% over 2% or whole milk because it has a lower fat content.
*fruit & nuts or a trail mix
*2 cups oatmeal with toast and peanut butter
*pasta salad with tuna or chicken
*veggies with a light dressing
On some days the time between the school dismissal bell and the start of the game whistle, doesn’t leave much time for a meal.  When this happens and there is less than 60 minutes to game time, go for an easily digestible food like a granola bar, banana or bread with jam.

Postgame grub
Athletic Republic trainers recommend feeding your child within 15 minutes to an hour after the game, match, workout or race because the body is made to replenish lost fluids soon after the activity.  To make it easier for families to streamline the meal plan, parents are given flyers that specify when and what to feed kids.  I found it extremely helpful to get this information, since we all know that our kids don’t come with manuals!  So now let’s break it down by foods to simplify even more:

Within 15 minutes – snack & drink:  
 *peanut butter and jelly sandwich
 *fruit yogurt
 *sports bar like a Cliff Bar
If your kids don’t have an appetite at that time, give them a drink that will have both carbs and protein like chocolate milk or a smoothie with fruit and yogurt. 

Within two hours – meal ideas:
 *pasta with tomato sauce, veggies and chicken
 *turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with whole wheat crackers and fruit
 *stir fry with brown rice (if you can get away with that!), veggies and lean meat

Within four hours-snack suggestions:
 *whole grain crackers & string cheese
 *graham crackers with peanut butter
 *cereal like whole grain cheerios with low-fat milk

Best beverages
When shopping for recovery drinks, Dr. Birkeland’s personal favorites include Shamrock Farms Rockin Refuel chocolate milk and EAS drinks.  Shamrock Farms Rockin Refuel chocolate milk is fortified with extra protein, but remains low in carbohydrates making it an ideal treat for after the game, but not before. 

According to Dr. Birkeland, EAS products are the only supplement company with ties to the NFL and MLB because of their strict performance enhancement testing policies and perfect reputation to have clean and safe products. 

If you are interested in learning more about recommended nutrition ideas for young athletes or training at Athletic Republic, visit for more information.   My almost 13-year-old son loves his weekly session and this manic, but managed mom is happy to see my boy concerned about his physical fitness and his diet.  As a mom, I’ll take all the help I can get!