If you are what you eat then athletes have to ingest a pretty spectacular meal before they step onto the field. When an athlete eats something beneficial to their body before a game, it gives them the extra boosts of stamina and strength they need to succeed. If they eat something heavy and processed, their body doesn’t perform as well.

This is even more critical for youth athletes. Their bodies are still developing, and eating non-nutritious meals before a game will do them more harm than good. It’s important to feed your child healthy meals prior to their practices and games – but they should also be meals that promote certain vitamins and nutrients as well.

Some children are also picky eaters who only like certain foods or foods prepared a certain way. Instead of providing recipes for meals your child may or may not eat, here is a list of foods that provide adequate nutrition for young athletes and that you can incorporate into their usual meal plan.

Starches

The more scientific term for this food type is “complex carbohydrates.” Unlike proteins or fats, starches and complex carbohydrates are easier for the body to digest. Because they are processed faster, bodies receive the energy from these foods faster. Starches aren’t just meant to eat a few hours before a game, either – some scientists recommend all athletes stock up on complex carbs for up to three days prior to a game. Your best bet is to include complex carbs in almost all meals a young athlete eats.

Examples of complex carbohydrates include pastas, rice, potatoes, breads, cereals and fruits.

Water

While not necessarily a food, don’t ever load up a young athlete on sugary juices or sodas before a game. Restrict their hydration to water or water-based drinks like light non-sweet teas or sugar free lemonades. Powerades and Gatorades can also be included if you wish, but nothing beats plain old water when it comes to hydration and performance empowerment.

Proteins

Protein rich foods help build muscles and keep them working smoothly, so of course proteins are essential for game day meals. It’s hard to name a sport that doesn’t require muscle movement, especially when you consider you have to use your muscles even when sleeping or sitting down. Now consider how important proper muscle flexibility and usage is when it comes to the big game!

In order to help keep a child athlete’s muscles moving in top form, space out protein throughout all their meals prior to the game. Breakfast is the perfect time to make this happen – a breakfast of eggs and pancakes (no syrup; sorry kids!) combines both complex carbohydrates and proteins. Top it off with a banana and you’ve got the perfect pre-game breakfast.

Mealtimes

It’s always important to consider the time a child eats in comparison to when their game actually starts. The full meal should be consumed three to four hours before the game starts with small top off snacks every hour in between.

Some athletes will also skip lunch in order to avoid playing on a full stomach. This is a no-no – it’s important not to eat a full meal before stepping onto the field, but it’s just as bad to start a game running on empty.