Tomorrow morning my 5 year old has to be at the hockey rink by 7:15am. Our 6 year old has to be on the pitch by 9:30am. They have to eat something, but what?!
In our free public facebook group I’ve been posting about how my wife, Gina, and I feed our kids throughout the week. If you want to see more on the topic click here to join the group.
Just a note: we have 3 active kids ages 5, 6, and 15 and Gina and I both work fulltime jobs.
During the week and weekends, the kids are in 3 different directions sometimes playing multiple games in a single day. Our oldest plays high level hockey and travels to showcases all over the country where his performance has to be at its peak every time he steps on the ice.
Little things matter.
Nutrition is a BIG thing. Many parents believe their kids can eat virtually anything without affecting their performance. As a coach, I can testify to just how wrong they are. A kid who fades out 40 minutes into practice will get 33% less coaching time, because they’re too tired to improve. A kid who’s too hyper at the start of practice will usually distract the coach, or earn a few “laps”, which detracts from his time to learn. Kids who don’t eat breakfast simply won’t play their best in the third period. An overstimulated kid will probably draw an unnecessary penalty or draw an unnecessary offside.
Fortunately, there’s an answer, and it’s not force-feeding your kid. Here’s an easy way to make sure they’re getting what they need (and will want to eat it!)
You know protein builds muscles. But on game day, eating protein can help by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates. WIthout fully explaining the Glycemic Index, here’s how carbs work: some break down slowly, giving you sustained energy; some break down quickly, giving you peaks and valleys. Protein slows that breakdown, helping with sustaining energy levels for longer. You need protein and/or fat with carbs on game day.
Your body primarily runs on carbohydrates during sport (though there’s some fat metabolism, too.) But just like gas in a racecar, you don’t want to run out. If you’re eating sugar, white flour or fruit without anything else, you’ll get a massive energy dump at first…and then nothing when you need it later. At our gym, CrossFit MetroEast, we explain carbohydrate breakdown as a thermometer: let’s say you want to keep your house heated to 70 degrees. If you burn sugar, that thermometer will jump to 90, and then quickly drop to 60. If you burn grains (even “whole wheat”) you’ll pop up to 85, and then drop to 65 pretty quickly. But if you’re burning vegetables, you’ll go up to 75, then back to 68. And if you add protein or fat to the meal, you’ll hold 70 degrees for a long time. Eat vegetables, or combine protein and/or fat with your carbs to keep that energy level consistent.
What are some of the worst carbs to eat? Breakfast bars. Muffins. Bagels.
Fats don’t make you fat. Kids need fat in their diet (so do adults, especially in the Metro-East, where our skin dries out and our brain gets depressed in the winter.) Fats are a secondary energy source. When the carbs are gone, fats fuel the fire. Use nuts and seeds to provide healthy fats. Heck, eat bacon: I’d rather coach a kid who ate bacon for breakfast than one who had a bagel. Pro-tip: Bring your coach bacon if you made some for your kids…almost guaranteed to get them extra playing time ;).
BONUS: The carb-up myth.
Some parents and coaches believe that kids should “carb up” before a practice or game, and feed them a bagel or pasta. This isn’t true, will probably decrease performance, and should be stopped.
Feeding a kid a bunch of grain-based food immediately before practice will slow him down. Grains pull water out of the muscle and into the stomach, causing cramps, an “overfull” feeling, and sluggishness. Want to slow down a racehorse? Give him a pail of grain right before a race. Want to slow down your kid? Do the same.
If given a giant bowl of pasta the night before an early practice, your child’s stomach will be clear. But the insulin spike from the carb-heavy meal will leave them with a sugar crash in the morning; they’ll feel tired, crabby and sluggish until they eat more sugar, and then ride that roller-coaster all day.
Even most marathon runners, who need prolonged energy at low levels over several hours, are starting to trend away from this bad habit and instead opt for a combination of carbs, protein and fat the night before a race. (Yes, this concept also applies to you adults… I just discussed this with a client of mine getting ready for an upcoming race.)
Adults tend to choose foods based on taste, but research shows this isn’t true for kids. Kids make food choices based on, in this order:
“Novelty” can mean appearance, or activity surrounding the food, or presentation. If you look at packaging on “kid food” as an adult, you’ll think the manufacturer went way overboard on bright colors and shooting stars. But they know better: to a kid, the shiniest box contains the best-tasting food. Luckily, we can use their knowledge for our own (less-evil) purposes.
Packaging food in a unique way, arranging it on the plate to make a picture, making it finger-edible, placing it in a different spot in the house…kids’ brains are wired to pay attention to novelty. These things all help. Filling a special “hockey day” bowl with grapes, nuts and cheese to eat on the way to the rink can help. A picnic on the floor while sorting hockey equipment can also help. Another pro tip: turn off the tv while getting ready in the morning; no meal can compare to the shiny distractions on the screen. Letting kids choose their fruit in the grocery store or even help prepare their meal can also help, because their sense of ownership will combine with the novelty factor.
Texture: in the morning, stick to crunchier, more texture-rich foods. While some kids will eat a banana (or yogurt) in the morning, cereal companies bank on how a food FEELS when it’s being eaten. It’s psychological, but few people wake up starving, and eating soggy cereal is unappealing anytime. What’s crunchy? Fruit. Nuts.
Taste: It has to taste good, but that doesn’t mean you need sugary cereal or fake yogurt in tubes. “Natural” sugars like syrup and honey aren’t better than table sugar, but fruit goes a long way.
Your kid doesn’t need a big breakfast, and it doesn’t have to be perfect every time. Some cut up fruit or raisins; a little handful of nuts; and a piece of cheese or stick of bacon will go a long way. But when a kid hops out of the back seat with a donut from Dunkin’ chocolate milk, her coach knows she’ll be hyper for the first ten minutes, then tired and cranky for the next 50.
Gina and I approach eating on a scale of “Good-Better-Best.”
Good: they ate something. This isn’t enough for athletes, but kids who are just lazing around the house can get by with cereal in the morning.
Better: they had some protein with their breakfast carbs. Cereal bars can even be okay if paired with an egg or bacon.
Best: they practiced solid nutrition for at least three days before a tournament. Treats once every three days or so (rather than 3x/day.) This is the biggest focus with our teenager.
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.” – Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit.
Need more help? Two things you can do:
- Book a free nutrition consult HERE in gym to talk about your family’s nutritional needs
- Email me back at [email protected] to schedule a visit. We’ll come and talk to parents on your team for FREE.
In the meantime, if you need me this weekend, search the local hockey rinks or soccer fields. You’ll likely find me yelling at my kids to run or skate faster, lol.