Healthy Snacks for Athletes
What if you had a go-to healthy snacks list your young athlete would eat for game time and practice?
Wouldn’t life be a little bit easier?
I’ve put together a bunch of healthy snacks for athletes to help you!
You know healthy snacks are ideal for them.
If you look around, though, there are more examples of unhealthy snack foods than there are of healthy snacks for your child. Unhealthy snacks don’t truly fuel and satisfy your child, especially if he’s a young athlete.
Just take a look at the concession stand. Often, it is loaded with high fat, sugary foods that aren’t appropriate for game day.
Unfortunately, sideline snacks brought by well-intentioned parents are not much better.
Just the other day, a mom was describing the box of donuts her child was offered after the lacrosse game. Really?!
Healthy Snack Ideas for Athletes
It’s no surprise that one of the most popular questions I’m asked by parents of young athletes like you is:
What should I give my child to eat before he goes to practice or a game?
It’s a great question.
The answer is pretty simple: give your young athlete a healthy snack.
While the answer is simple, you might be wondering what exactly is a healthy snack…
Is it a piece of fruit?
Crackers or pasta?
The question is so common, it’s the reason I created a Healthy Snacks List for you.
Fueling your child athlete shouldn’t be a mystery and it shouldn’t be difficult.
In my healthy snacks list you’ll get an array of healthy snack ideas plus a list of foods you can use to pick and choose easy snacks to use throughout the week.
I take the mystery out of feeding your athlete!
You can even use my healthy snacks list to create a grocery shopping list of snack foods you rotate through week to week. (This always keeps variety high.)
Insider Tips for Healthy Sports Snacks
While all snack foods should offer up a healthy punch of nutrition for kids — even the run-of-the-mill after-school snack — the best snacks for your young athlete are ones that:
provide easy to consume fuel for his active body
are actually eaten
cover his hunger and appetite
3 Strategies for Planning Healthy Snack Foods
When I help young athletes and their parents plan healthy snacks, I use a few key considerations. I’m sharing these for you here:
1. Make Sure Key Nutrients are Included
The nutrients that are the most important for an exercising athlete are carbohydrates and protein.
Carbohydrates offer the preferred source of fuel for exercising muscles.
Protein is key to building muscle and repairing it after strenuous exercise.
If you target these nutrients when planning healthy snacks, you’ll offer the fuel sources needed for optimal performance, while helping your athlete feel good.
The presence of protein also helps your athlete ward off excess hunger.
Snack foods that contain only a carbohydrate source, like fresh fruit or crackers, are fine for short events, practices or less intensive exercises.
But they aren’t ideal for the young athlete who is exercising for over an hour.
2. Offer a Healthy Snack Strategically (Not Every Athlete Needs a Snack)
When does your young athlete need a healthy snack?
Again, this reflects on the intensity and duration of your athlete’s exercise schedule and routine.
For example, if you’ve got a little soccer players who has a 45-minute practice, he may not need any additional sports snack outside of his regular athlete meal plan.
However, if you’re the parent of a high school basketball player or swimmer, she will probably need a more substantial snack.
My rule of thumb is:
If your young athlete is exercising under an hour in duration, he probably doesn’t need an extra snack outside of his routine meal plan.
Alternatively, if your athlete is exercising for over an hour, in an intense sport like swimming, rowing or sports involving running, plan a heftier snack, or even a 4th meal to cover her energy needs for exercise.
A rower who participates in an extended training session (two hours) may need a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk before practice.
A volleyball player, who also practices for a long time but at a lower intensity, may do well with a slice of peanut butter toast.
Give your athlete plenty of time to digest his snack. Generally, she’ll need a half hour to an hour to digest a light, carbohydrate-based snack (ie, granola bar, toast, fruit, or dry cereal).
For heavier snacks that include combinations of nutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat), allow an hour or two for digestion prior to exercise.
3. Always Try to Add Nutrition
The questions you should be asking yourself as you plan your athlete’s healthy snacks list are:
How can I add nutrition?
Where can I bring in variety?
How can I plan healthy snacks on the go for my athlete?
Here’s the bad news: There are plenty of foods around that are full of empty calories.
Yes, they have calories, but they contain few to no nutrients.
Hello candy, chips and dessert!
Simply said, these foods don’t add nutritional value to your growing athlete’s diet.
Instead, because you’re supporting the growth and development of your child as well as his athletic performance, you want to go for wholesome, real food.
So keep this in mind as you think about healthy snack ideas.
Wholesome, nutritious food will fuel his growth and his athletic performance.
The best foods to target include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, dairy, and healthy fats.
Wholesome, pre-packaged snacks can work too.
I’ve got you covered with my healthy snacks list for the young athlete!
In this list, I give you 70 different snack ideas that creatively combine carbohydrate, protein and fat.
You can grab my list by clicking on the box below:
Which healthy snacks does your athlete eat to fuel his sports performance?
Other Sports Nutrition Resources
For more about the principles of sports nutrition for young athletes, buy my book, Eat Like a Champion.
Want your athlete to learn how to properly fuel his body?
My program Eat Like a Champion (based on my book) is designed to teach and train your young athlete what to eat, when to eat and the general principles around sports nutrition for growing bodies.
Check it out below!
Do you like what you see on The Nourished Child? If so, join me on my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, and check out my podcast where I have several episodes about youth sports, The Nourished Child!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: April 18, 2018
Updated on: September 21, 2019