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Soccer Nutrition - 9 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Properly Fed Soccer Tournaments

Whenever your kids play in a soccer tournament, you, as a parent, have to deal with a unique soccer nutrition challenge.

Soccer tournaments present a special nutritional challenge for children because players compete in so many games in such a short period of time. And the most intense of these games usually come at the end of a long weekend of play, which only adds to the challenge.

Playing anywhere from three to five games in a two or three day stretch requires your kids to take on a lot of fuel, but is has to be the right kind of fuel. And the problem is that, while tournaments often have plenty of food available at concession stands, almost all of it is bad from a soccer nutrition point of view.

A three-day diet of fried dough, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and soda is simply not going to meet your child's soccer nutrition needs over four or five games, and could see them running out of gas in the second half of a critical semi-final game.

Fatigue caused by poor soccer nutrition can lead to sluggish play and mistimed tackles that may result in cards, suspension, or even injury.

But with a little forethought, and a few adjustments to a player's dietary habits, both during the tournament and in the days leading up to it, you can have your child playing with more energy and stamina during the final stretch of competition. Who knows, they may even end up making the crucial play that wins the game or the tournament.

1. Plan Ahead: Figure out long before you leave just how long there is between games. If it's just a couple of hours, there probably won't be time for a meal, if it's several hours, maybe there is. Also consider when your games are in relation to “normal” meal times. A game that starts at 12:30pm is going to put a crimp in you plans for lunch. Work out ahead of time how you're going to deal with that

2. Do Your Research: Do an internet search to find not just local restaurants, but local supermarkets in the area where you can buy fresh food. Supermarkets are not only places to buy healthier foods, but are also a much cheaper alternative to eating out all weekend.

3. Assign Nutrition Managers: Get together with some other parents and designate two each game to be in charge of soccer nutrition. Consider pooling your money to purchase picnic items like cold pasta salads, fresh fruit, nuts, and granola bars from the local supermarkets. Bring some team coolers to the fields and designate team snack times between games to ensure that all players are getting nutritious snacks throughout the day. Discuss with the coach or team manager the idea of building the cost of these snacks into the up-front cost of the tournament.

4. Plan a Team Meal: Talk with the coach or team manager about planning a group meal for the team. Several hours before a key game if there is time or in the evening between game days might be ideal times. These are a great way to not only build team spirit, but also influence the selection of beneficial nutritional foods. Pick a restaurant that has nutritious food choices and maybe arrange beforehand a selection of three entrees for players to choose from (all, of course, chosen for their nutritional benefits as much as their taste).

5. Pre-Game Eating Don'ts: In the hours leading up to the game, try and keep your kids away from foods that tend to sit in the stomach (hot dogs, hamburgers, roast beef, steak), sugary foods (doughnuts, chocolate, soda), and processed items (potato chips).

6. No Playing on Empty Stomachs: Players who say they aren't hungry or refuse a meal should be coaxed into eating. The appetite often dulls in times of excitement and high adrenaline, causing less hunger. Young players require a bit more energy than adult players and should be fed often. Coaches should also encourage healthy eating two to four hours before playing with refreshing snacks (an apple or sports drink) during games.

7. Before Competition: As a rule of thumb, parents should encourage players to eat a substantial meal (maybe a large bagel with peanut butter; yogurt; orange juice) four hours before a game; a lighter meal (deli sandwich; fruit salad; low-fat milk) two hours before a game, and snacks (medium banana; granola bar; and low-fat milk) about an hour or less before game play.

8. After Competition: After games, encourage your kids to immediately refuel with high-carbohydrate foods that help increase the rate of post-game recovery. Whole grain waffles with fruit; grilled chicken sandwich and baked potato; chicken and salad; turkey sub; and pasta or rice with vegetables.

9. Be a Diplomat: Telling your average soccer mom that you don't approve of the food she is putting into her children's stomachs is not usually a good way to make friends and influence people. By all means take on a leadership role, but try not to be too overbearing.

Be sure to enlist the support of the coach and/or team manager. Present your concerns about soccer nutrition as suggestions, and make those suggestions in the context of wanting what's best for the team.

And don't forget to highlight the fact that good soccer nutrition not only helps the team, but also helps prevent injury and increases the safety and well-being of the children.

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