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Do Sports Snacks Ruin Kids’ Exercise?

snacks and sports

My friend and colleague Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD over at Real Mom Nutrition posted a video on her blog this week–she’s a mom on a mission to change the culture of sport snacks.

I’m sharing my opinion on sporting events and sports snacks to help you think about why and what we feed our kids at practices and events. Even though I wrote this a year and a half ago, it’s still relevant.

I agree with Sally–we need to start thinking about what we pack, promote and allow on the playing field. You can also read my take on this topic for swimmers over at USA Swimming. Lastly, we cover more on how to handle this in Fearless Feeding.

Children’s sporting events provide an extreme window into the temptations of childhood eating. The culture of snacking at these events is ingrained and almost a ritual.  Reversing this culture is an uphill battle and one that requires parents and sports organizations to survey several issues.

If you’re interested in the quality of snacks at sporting events, it may be wishful thinking to expect healthy items like fruit or vegetables–they are not the norm.

Rather, you are more likely to see chips, crackers, cookies, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts shopped around to your little athletes. If you are trying to focus on feeding your child in a healthy manner, sporting events are often a land mine of high sugar, high fat, nutrient-poor food items that will sabotage your healthy eating efforts!

The Issues Around Sports Snacks

Issue #1 : Do Kids Need to Eat During Sports Practice?

Do kids even need a snack at a sporting event?  When did we buy into the idea that kids need to eat their way through a soccer game?

Sure, if your child is playing an active game, in the heat, and for over an hour,  a re-fueling snack and fluids to maintain energy, focus and hydration makes sense.

A granola bar (check out my granola bar guide), cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, or a cheese stick is helpful and healthy—cookies and donuts are not.

Issue #2: Sugary Foods Aren’t Good for Athletes

Why do adults assume that children want sugary, high fat foods when they play sports?  Aside from the lack of nutrients they provide, they do little for enhancing a child’s sports performance.

Most children at recreational sporting events do not need this–a nutritious breakfast or lunch will do the trick.

Learn more about proper fuel for young athletes with my new sports nutrition program!

Eat Like a Champion is a sports nutrition program for young athletes and their parents to learn how to fuel the growing body for a competitive edge.

Issue #3: We Shouldn’t Reward Kids for Exercising

We are sending the wrong message.  Play a sport and get a food reward.

Eat sweets at the end of a game. For children, sporting events have turned into a means to an end–eating treats.

Issue #4: Choosing the Right Drink

Many drinks at weekend games are inappropriate for children.  Drinks are often laden with added sugar like juice boxes, Capri Sun, Kool-aid, soda, etc.  Children’s bodies need water.

What about Gatorade or similar drinks?  Again, if your child is running and sweating for more than an hour, sports drinks can be helpful in repleting lost nutrients such as sodium, chloride, and potassium.

Many children are not “sweating it out” like this until they are at the high school level.

Don’t Let Sports Snacks Ruin Exercise

Even the latest research suggests that children who play sports eat more junk food than children who don’t play sports, pointing out that calorie intake exceeds the calorie burn. Now, there is something wrong with that.

Encouraging children to be active is part of being a health-oriented parent and raising healthy children. Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body.

Feasting after physical activity seems to negate its positive effects and promote untimely and potentially excessive eating.

My own child said to me once, “Mom, if I bring orange slices for snack, everyone will be disappointed”.

Hail to the Boring Snack Mom

I have vowed to be the boring mom who brings the healthy snack to the soccer game.  Someone has to be a role model and take the heat…I mean lead.

I invite you to join me.

What’s your take on sports snacks at practices and events?

Need more inspiration and help for planning snacks for your child? Check out my new E-Guide below:


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  1. Fruits are a great snack during events because it supplies a natural sugar that can help spike energies levels during performance. With donuts and high sugar snacks, the body will actually have to work hard to break down the complex sugars resulting in a “crash.” Go fruits!

  2. I coach judo and I have a daughter that plays soccer. In both sports the majority of kids bring water to practice, occasionally Gatorade . If they have snacks, it’s almost always fruit. In soccer, that is what parents are asked to bring.

    1. I wish that were the case for many of us–unfortunately it’s not. I think an expectation for parents is key–fruit and water will do just fine!