Learn about what it takes to fuel the young athlete who competes at all day sporting events with tournament food ideas and nutrition tips to increase performance.
Parents often ask for healthy snacks for sports tournaments and other nutrition advice when their athlete is facing an all day event.
The most important thing to keep in mind is this: Snacks, and food in general, is the fuel the young athlete needs to compete well.
Tournament Snacks for the Athlete
Food provides an energy source for the athlete, so choices that provide a good source of carbohydrate and protein will keep your athlete energized.
Whole grains like whole grain bread, cereals, and crackers are easy to eat and digest, while also providing a release of carbs. Dried fruit and fresh fruit can do the same.
For protein, nuts, nut butter, or jerky are easy to take along in the duffle bag. Of course, there are also foods that provide both at once, like a protein-packed granola bar or a bag of trail mix.
Bottom line? You want your tournament food ideas to be “premium” fuel, full of beneficial (and useful) nutrients.
Healthy Snacks for Sports Tournaments
When you have an athlete who competes in day-long sporting events like swim meets, tennis matches, soccer tournaments, and the like, you need to be prepared.
A plan for sport lunches and tournament snacks, whether you pack from home or plan to go out during game breaks, is essential to your athlete’s success.
The last thing you want is your athlete eating candy out of the concession stand! And that’s what can happen when you don’t have a plan.
[Wonder why? Read this article about concession stands at sporting events.]
I like to pack nut butter or deli meat and cheese sandwiches, crunchy pretzels, homemade gorp, sliced fresh fruit, cold pasta, yogurt, granola, cheese and crackers.
Yes, I know that’s a long list of healthy snacks! I always want my athletes to have several options to choose from because I never know what they’ll want to eat on game day.
If a restaurant or lunch spot is needed, I suggest a deli sandwich spot where you can get your protein (meat or cheese, for example) and carbohydrates (bread, veggies) wrapped in one.
7 Tips and Tournament Food Ideas
Help your athlete keep pace during all-day tournaments with these 7 food and feeding tips.
1. Pack a Variety of Snacks for Sports Tournaments
You don’t have to bring the refrigerator! A few options of fruit, vegetables, grains and high quality protein sources should cover your athlete’s variable appetite at a long event.
Pack several food options instead of a large quantity of only two or three foods so your child will eat out of your igloo rather than the concession stand.
2. Pack Enough Food for the Day
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?).
3. Pay Attention to Food Temperature
If you are packing perishables, be sure to add an ice pack or two…or more.
It’s no fun to get tummy cramps before an event because food has spoiled.
4. Pack Protein Foods
Protein will be an ally in keeping your athlete’s blood sugar, hunger and mood stable.
Encourage your athlete to 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.
5. Healthy Snacks for Athletes Have Carbs
Muscles rely on carbohydrate for immediate and long-lasting fuel. Pack an assortment of easily digestible sources like 100% juice, fruit leather, applesauce, fresh or dried fruit or veggie sticks for a quick pick-me-up.
Complex carbohydrate foods, such as crackers, unsweetened dry cereal, pita, bagel or other breads, pretzels and graham crackers help give your young athlete a longer-lasting source of carbs which can keep energy levels up and support athletic performance.
Dairy sources like chocolate milk, are good combination foods, providing both protein and carbohydrate sources. Chocolate milk is a desirable beverage when the day is over and competition has been completed.
6. Think your Drink
The best way to rehydrate your athlete is a big consideration, especially at an all-day event. Water, 100% fruit juice and sports drinks are appropriate at a sporting event, especially those that showcase multiple games or events like a swim or tennis meet.
If it’s a short soccer game (less than an hour), keep your rehydration plan to water. If it’s longer than an hour, consider a sports drink with electrolytes.
Plain and flavored milk are a great drink choice after competition. It provides protein for muscle repair and carbohydrate to re-fuel them.
7. Nosh or Nibble on Food?
Your athlete can nosh on meals or larger quantities of food during big breaks (at least two hours) between sporting events.
He can nibble small amounts of food before and after events which are closely scheduled.
At a minimum, your teen athlete should be nibbling to stay energized and keep muscles fueled for a competitive edge.
Need More Help Fueling Young Athletes?
I’ve got a sports nutrition class for the young athlete! This class will teach your athlete what to eat and why, giving him the tools to plan his food and fueling plan.
Learn more at The Nourished Child where you’ll find workshops, classes and nutrition guidebooks to help you feed and nourish your child, inside and out.
This article was originally published in February 2012 | Updated in November 2020.