Nutritional Strategies for Big Tournament Days

Nutritional Strategies for Big Tournament Days

Walking out on the volleyball court for the third and final game of the day, I wonder if my daughter and her teammates will have the energy and mental fortitude to continue to play at the level they did earlier in the day. The same goes for my son on the soccer fields in the fall. Gorgeous fall days with kids running back and forth along lengthy fields – they sure do burn a lot of calories. By late afternoon, they can start to feel very worn down. Keeping their mental game going is important and, as a mom, I try to also make them aware of their body’s nutritional needs as they play through the day.

Kids can be picky and may want to eat the junky burger and fries sold on site - and sometimes that is the way it has to go. But over time I have tried to help them think about how nutrition helps their development and success as players. It is their success that is on the line and I am just trying to help them make good decisions.

Our tried and true:
  • Prep the Night Before: Lots of hydration, carbs & sleep. In my experience people underestimate how important drinking lots of liquids is in order to perform 100%. By the time your kid feels thirsty, you are late in the hydration game. We usually make a good pasta dinner or some type of chicken and rice dish the night before. Note: All carbs may not be equal for your athlete. Over time you may find some work better with their system than others. We avoid fried foods and heavy desserts which, in our experience, can weigh an athlete down. 

  • Size Matters: If you have an early start, you don’t want to have a heavy breakfast; this makes the strategy the night before even more important. Grab a light bite as early as you can ahead of the game. Ideally, bigger meals should be eaten at least 3-4 hours ahead of game play. If that is not feasible, smaller snacks throughout the course of play can be an effective strategy to keep energy up without dragging the player down.

  • The Tower of Power: Over the years, I have developed a snack pack strategy to help my athletes keep going at a high level all day and avoid the pitfalls of low blood sugar. At one point I bought a nifty container system that had 5 interconnected stacked plastic containers

While this is now long gone after repeated use, it became known as my “Tower of Power” and the name has stuck. I would put super energy foods in each container that could be snacked on while on the sidelines. My choices changed depending on the child and the preferences at the time but were generally plant-based foods that were quick & easy to eat, easy to process and able to give good quick and sustainable energy. Some of our family favorites:

  • Pistachios: Good distinct flavor and loaded with athlete essentials. Pistachios have been part of the human diet possibly as far back as 7,000 BC and technically they are seeds, not nuts. One serving is about an ounce or a small handful and contains ~160 calories, 6g of protein, 13g of fat and is packed with antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin B-6.

  • Pumpkin Seeds: We buy sprouted organic which are a little lighter and easier to digest. Just one ounce can give your athlete 9g of protein, 14g of fat and healthy doses of magnesium, zinc and manganese. These are an undervalued snack food of champions.

  • Honeyed Slivered Almonds: Love this cut of almonds that is lighter than whole and is easier for the athlete to eat. Sometimes I just pack them as is, sometimes I lightly toast them in an air fryer or, once in a while, I toast them with honey. My recipe is usually done the Italian way – by look and feel rather than a recipe – but the rough numbers are: 

    • 2 cups of almonds 
    • ¼ C of organic butter or preferred light organic cooking oil 
    • ¼ C of organic honey 
    • Salt to taste 

    Melt butter and mix in honey. Coat almonds with mixture and lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 4-5 minutes, tossing mid-way through for even cooking. Oven temperatures can vary and the honey can burn quickly so keep a close eye. 

    These get rave reviews from kids and parents. The almonds are a classic super food for an athlete with 170 calories per quarter cup including 15g of fat, 4g of fiber and 6g of protein. They provide 37% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin E, 8% of calcium, and 6% of iron. The butter adds another 5-6 grams of fat per serving and the honey chips in 24 calories - but they add great taste and texture. (Staying on the almond kick, a staff favorite here at MommaBear are dark chocolate covered almonds. Trader Joes sells wonderful buy-in-bulk bags.) 

  • Fresh berries like raspberries, blueberries and strawberries: I love this component of my Tower of Power. Not only do these provide a quick calorie uplift, they also have a high water content so are a big help with hydration when kids are in the thick of the tournament.

  • Raspberries: one of my favorites, these taste great and have a relatively low sugar content at just 5G (a little more than a teaspoon) per cup. They are high in antioxidants, contain 8g of fiber and have over 50% of the daily requirement of Vitamin C.

  • Blueberries – a North American native, blueberries are a fun little berry that are almost 85% water, making them relatively low in calories (one cup has just over 80 calories). Like raspberries, these are high in antioxidants, good amounts of fiber (4g) and Vitamin C.

  • Strawberries: with only 53 calories per cup, this staple of my childhood is something I love to share with my kids. Although it is “strawberry” shaped, this is a “well-rounded” contributor to any athlete’s diet. A serving offers up 1g of protein, 8g of carbs (3g of fiber) and is more than 90% water – a great pick me up between games. Throw in a good dose of Vitamin C, manganese, folate (Vitamin B9) and potassium and you realize that this great tasting berry is a must have in a Tower of Power.

As with all fruit, I recommend stocking up when they are in-season to get the tastiest and best nutritional value. 

While I am quite sure that even the best diet cannot guarantee a spot at the Olympics, I can attest that having the right approach to diet gives your kids a leg up so that they can perform their best. I have seen it in action.

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