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What do you pack for your athlete to eat when they’re competing? Does it look like this? Parents ask for my suggestions when it comes to fueling their athlete, whether it be for a short event or an all day competition.

The most important thing to keep in mind is this: Snacks are FUEL. Not treats, not rewards. They provide an energy source from which your child draws on–you want this to be “premium” fuel–not low-octane.

When you have an athlete who competes in day-long events like swim meets, tennis matches, soccer tournaments, and the like, you have to be prepared. The last thing you want is for your athlete eating candy out of the concession stand!

You can help your athlete keep pace during competition with these seven cooler packing guidelines:

  • Pack variety. You don’t have to bring the refrigerator! A few options of fruit, vegetables, grain and high quality protein sources should cover your athlete’s finicky appetite. Pack several food options instead of a large quantity of only two or three foods and the odds are your child will eat out of your igloo rather than the concession stand.
  • Pack enough. You don’t want to run out of food, and you may even want to share with other athletes (well-fueled athletes help the whole team, right?).
  • Pay attention to temperature. If you are packing perishables, be sure to add an ice pack or two. It’s no fun to get tummy cramps before an event because food has spoiled.
  • Pack in the protein. Protein will be an ally in keeping your athlete’s blood sugar, hunger and mood stable. Nibble on cheese sticks or slices, nuts, peanut or nut butters, rolled deli meat slices, meat jerky, yogurt or yogurt drinks, boxes of low fat milk, hummus or edamame.
  • Don’t forget the carbohydrate. Muscles rely on carbs for fuel. Pack an assortment of easily digestible sources like 100% juice, fruit leather, applesauce, fresh or dried fruit and veggie sticks as well as complex carbohydrate foods, such as crackers, unsweetened dry cereal, pita, bagel or other breads, pretzels and graham crackers. Dairy sources also provide a protein-rich carbohydrate source.
  • Think your drink. Water, 100 percent fruit juice and sports drinks are appropriate at an extended competition like a swim or tennis meet. If it’s a short soccer game (less than an hour), keep it to water. Plain and flavored milk are great drink choices during and after competition—they provide protein for muscle repair and carbohydrate to re-fuel muscles.
  • Nosh or Nibble? Nosh on “meals” or large quantities of food during big breaks between events. Nibble small amounts of food before and after events that are closely scheduled. At a minimum, your young athlete should be nibbling to stay energized and keep muscles fueled for a competitive edge.

Being prepared for events is half the battle! Help your young athlete succeed and feel good with healthy snacks that fuel their bodies. You can read more about children and sports nutrition here.

What sports snacks do you pack for your athlete?

Written by Jill Castle, MS, RDN | Sep 04, 2014

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and child nutrition expert. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, and creator of Just The Right Byte, a child and family nutrition blog. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, Conn. Find out more at

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