What to Eat on Game Day
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity
Nutrition and staying energized can impact the enjoyment kids get out of sports. There’s nothing like a grumbling belly to sap energy and ruin an otherwise fun practice.
It’s important to provide the right kind of fuel for kids’ bodies and imaginations during play and activities like sports. Kids’ bodies and minds are constantly in motion — from racing around at recess to learning complex new math concepts to absorbing a new skill in their favorite sport. Our nutrition tips for kids will give you ideas for getting the right fuel into those growing bodies so they can do their best out there. You’ll find fun facts and easy ideas for an overall nutritious diet as well as game-day nutrition.
Between meals and snacks, active kids can eat up to five or six times a day. A balanced diet with things like carbohydrates, protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables will help keep them going and growing. Specifically, whole grains are important for keeping those little budding athletes energized.
Examples of energizing whole grains are:
- Oatmeal at breakfast
- Whole-wheat bread at lunch
- Whole-grain crackers or bars like CLIF Kid Zbar® energy snack bar for snacks
- Brown rice or whole-wheat pasta at dinner
For kids, it’s most important to make sure they are eating healthy, balanced meals in the days leading up to competition. And you want to be sure they are getting enough to eat to support their sport.
Kids participating in endurance-focused sports like swimming or running may need to eat more than those who participate in more sprint or stop-and-go sports like BMX racing or gymnastics. Teach kids how to listen to their bodies so they know when they’re hungry and when they’re full.
In the days leading up to competition, make snacks easily available to active kids. Kids welcome the freedom to satisfy their hunger themselves (and these young athletes seem like they’re always hungry), so it’s a great idea to have a snack station at home or in the car where kids are free to grab an energizing snack like peanut butter crackers, whole-grain pretzels, or a CLIF Kid Zbar energy snack bar before the game.
Another major factor in pre-game nutrition is hydration. It’s important for kids to drink water all day long, not just while practicing and playing. So be sure to fill up those water bottles!
Sometimes a snack is all kids need before a game or match. For shorter-duration sports like basketball or volleyball, a small snack might do the trick. For longer-duration sports like golf, baseball, softball, or gymnastics meets, a larger snack may be needed to fuel their bodies for an extended period of time.
Pre-game snacks should be a source of carbohydrates to provide energy. Beyond that, a small amount of protein can help satisfy hunger for the longer-duration sports listed above. Be aware of the fat content of pre-game snacks as this can slow digestion. Choose snacks that are lower in fat, or rather, not high in fat like pastries or fried foods.
Here’s a list of ideas to try for a pre-game snack with your little athlete:
- CLIF Kid Zbar energy snack bar
- Crackers and peanut butter
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Trail mix
- Animal crackers
- Tangerine or grapes and cheese stick
- Dried fruit
- Fruit yogurt and granola
- Cereal and milk
- Banana and nut butter
Meals for Little Athletes Before a Game
No matter what time they play, the best game-day nutrition includes a balanced meal a few hours before competition. Focus on carbohydrates for fuel, with moderate protein, fat, and fiber so as not to make them feel weighed down or sluggish. A meal can be created in a multitude of ways.
For midday games, a breakfast might be one of the following:
- Whole-grain toast with jam, fruit, and eggs
- A bowl of oatmeal with nut butter and dried fruit
- Yogurt and granola fruit parfait
And for evening games, here are some great lunches:
- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with fruit and graham crackers
- Whole-grain pasta with chicken and vegetables
- Grilled cheese with a side of sliced fruit or veggies
If the game is too close to wake-up time, go for a lighter meal and then keep the snacks coming before and during the game. An hour or so before game time, remind your kid to get their snack on. CLIF Kid Zbar energy snack bar is sized for little hands and has 10-12 grams of energizing whole grains from organic oats to fuel kids’ active bodies.
Snacks Between Games
Many young athletes will find themselves at tournaments, playing multiple games or matches in one day. In these situations, it can be challenging for them to eat enough between games to replenish their energy and prepare for the next event.
If your little athlete only has 30-60 minutes between games, a smaller, easy-to-digest snack is a great choice. Foods like a CLIF Kid Zbar energy snack bar, dried fruit, pretzels, fruit, a yogurt drink, or fruit snacks could work well. With that said, if a child can eat a larger quantity of food and still feel OK to compete, this could be helpful in getting more needed energy.
When there is more time between games, such as one to two hours, encourage kids to eat a balanced meal that includes carbohydrates and protein. Sandwiches are a great option because they’re portable and balanced. Smoothies, burritos, or bowls are also great choices. Consider packing a cooler with a variety of sandwiches to keep with you all day or plan ahead where you can pick up a quick meal for your athlete.
Especially if your player had a lighter meal before competition, you’ll want to have easy-to-digest snacks with energizing carbohydrates available during the game. Halftime snacks like orange slices are always a kid favorite.
Staying hydrated is also important. Water is the best option and should be the primary hydration source for kids.1 Sports drinks in combination with water and coconut water are also good choices for games lasting over an hour, as they contain fast-acting carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Kids need protein for their growing bodies, especially after a game. Kids love our CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein bars in Cookies ’n’ Creme, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Mint flavor and Cinnamon Crunch. These protein bars can help quiet rumbling tummies after a game and curb their hunger until mealtime.
For post-sport mealtime, give your athlete a balance of carbs, protein, and fat to support their growing body. If it’s not quite mealtime, or you need something fast and easy, a balanced snack can be a good option too.
Post-Game Snack Ideas:
- CLIF Kid Zbar Protein
- Yogurt tubes
- Peanut butter crackers
- Cheese stick and tangerine
- Trail mix
- Chocolate milk
- Jerky and banana
All these nutrition tips for kids combined with a good night’s sleep each night can help your budding athlete take on the world.
- Petrie HJ, Stover EA, Horswill CA. Nutritional concerns for the child and adolescent competitor. Nutrition. 2004;20(7-8):620-631. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.002