Last week I had my annual doctor's appointment which means I actually saw her 18 months ago. You know how that goes. Good intentions don't always translate into action. Because I had some vitamin D deficiency and some low potassium, it got me thinking again about the snacks I provide before and after games to help boost the various electrolytes and vitamin levels that can deplete with heavy activity and loss of fluids. While there are sport drinks which concentrate on three electrolytes levels and carbohydrates through sugars, they don't cover everything. Young players, to perform at top health and ability, need regular vitamins, fiber, and calcium in addition to common electrolytes and carbohydrates. No drink can give them all they need, so adding some healthy before and after game snacks makes sense.
We all hear about potassium and the important role it plays in helping muscles to fire. The stand-by for potassium has been bananas, which are a good source of potassium, but not the best. In fact on the scale of the best foods which give a potassium boost, bananas hold the bottom place. What they do offer is potassium without sodium, a huge bonus since several potassium-rich foods also contain a fair amount of sodium. A better alternative would be a snack box of raisins which provide 1020 mg of potassium as compared to 400 mg from a banana, and they only have 60 mg of sodium. Sultanas have even less sodium, 20 mg, and 1050 mg of potassium, but they are usually more difficult to find and not as appealing to young players. If your children like fresh apricots, then that's the ultimate potassium provider with 1380 mg of potassium and only 15 mg of sodium. They need to eat four apricots to get those benefits, so they had better love them!
Children need energy from carbohydrates, but like everything in life, there are good and bad varieties. You'll want carbs that aren't easily digested. These will usually come from foods high in fiber content and not processed. For example, fresh oranges have half the sugar and twice the fiber of orange juice. As a rule of thumb for fruits and vegetables those with vibrant colors indicate more nutritional benefits. Additionally, since vegetables are usually a hard sell, I found that color did encourage my children to at least try a taste so I opted for red, yellow, and orange peppers rather than the standby green ones. They usually cost more, but if the children eat them, the expense is worth it. If you go green then the darker and richer the green, the more vitamins and nutrients contained within. One great source of carbohydrates on the way to or from a game is graham crackers. You need to be sure that these are made with graham and whole wheat rather than refined bleached flour. Usually the whole wheat flour has been fortified with vitamin B 1 and B 2, another nutritional plus. They also come in a low-fat option that does have a bit more sugar for taste.
Granola bars can be a source of both carbohydrates and fiber, but be careful of the refined sugar content. Even though a chocolate covering can make a bar palatable for children used to sugary cereals and drinks, it negates the benefits the bars provide. Reading labels, now that the government requires significant detail in the explanations, can insure you get the healthiest option. If you use granola bars as a team snack, be sure you check for nut allergies since many bars either contain nuts or are manufactured in a factory that has nuts on the premises. When you find a good bar, you can't beat the convenience of throwing a few in a purse or backpack to curb a child's hunger after a game.
Calcium often goes hand in hand with fat, so you need to find sources that have a low fat option. Milk is high in calories, so it's not the best source for calcium. In fact all the dairy family of products offer good sources of calcium, but need to be consumed in moderation. I grew up in a household that drank whole milk like water, not very heart-healthy. To this day, the best I can do is 2% milk because I grew up with a beverage that didn't let light through the glass. I have opted for calcium enriched orange juice, which has natural sugars, but no fat. Other sources of calcium are leafy vegetables, again a hard sell for children, but some will eat broccoli. We called it "tree" and even today the children still call it that. For convenience you can turn to the low-fat yogurts in a tube, but again read the label carefully to avoid those yogurts high in sugar and fat. The advantage of the tubes is that they can be frozen and become a healthy alternative to ice cream bars. They also make a wonderful team snack.
There's a great resource on the internet provided by Harvard School of Public Health that details not only high-quality nutrition options, but also has recipes and links to other information (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/
). Another resource is Everyday Health (http://www.everydayhealth.com/
) which has a wonderful and clear guide to the nutritional and caloric contents of many fresh and packaged foods. Additional manufacturers provide the nutritional information for their products on their websites which you can locate through a search. That way you can compare labels in the comfort of your easy chair before heading out to the grocery. Ultimately no source can supplement the information you glean from your personal physician who knows your family's health and what will benefit it best. So be sure to check with him or her if you have any concerns or questions.
We can provide healthy snacks before and after games that supply the necessary nutrients a young athlete needs. Sports drinks can replenish some of those elements, but not all. Children need to have the broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, carbohydrates, proteins, and even fats to operate their bodies at optimal levels. As parents, we can pack a pretty good pre- and post-game variety of foods that meet the requirements of good health and good taste.