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Why Nutritionists Don’t Like Snacks After Sports

Jill Castle

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Children’s sporting events provide an extreme window into the temptations of childhood eating. Just walk onto a soccer field at snack time and look at the food supply. Parents who are interested in the quality of snacks at sporting events may be surprised to find chips, crackers, cookies, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts shopped around to their little athletes. If you are trying to focus on feeding your child in a healthy manner, sporting events may sabotage your efforts!

Do kids even need a snack at a sporting event?

If your child is playing an active game, in the heat for over an hour, a re-fueling snack and fluids to maintain energy, focus and hydration makes sense. A granola bar, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, or a cheese stick is helpful and healthy—cookies and donuts are not.

Why do we assume that children want sugary, high fat foods when they play sports?

Aside from the lack of nutrients these snacks provide, they do little for enhancing a child’s sports performance. Most children at recreational sporting events do not need this–a nutritious breakfast or lunch will do the trick.

Using food rewards can backfire

We are sending the wrong message, associating sports play with a food reward. For children, sporting events have turned into a means to an end–eating treats—where the treat becomes valued over exercise.

Inappropriate beverages

Many drinks at weekend games are inappropriate for children.  Drinks are often loaded with added sugar, like juice boxes, Capri Sun, Koolaid, and soda. Children’s bodies need water. What about Gatorade or similar drinks? Again, if your child is running and sweating for more than an hour, sports drinks can replenish lost nutrients such as sodium, chloride, and potassium.  Many children are not “sweating it out” like this until they are at the high school level, though.

Encouraging children to be active is part of being a health-oriented parent and raising healthy children. Feasting after physical activity negates the positive effects of exercise and promotes untimely and potentially excessive eating.

My own child said to me once, “Mom, if I bring orange slices for snack, everyone will be disappointed.”

I have vowed to be the boring mom who brings the healthy snack to the game. Someone has to set a new standard and be a role model. I invite you to join me.

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Jill Castle

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with expertise in pediatric nutrition. 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 childhood nutrition blog. Follow Jill on Twitter @pediRD and Facebook.