Nutritious Snacks For Youth Athletes During Tournaments

By Izzy Attai

Sports season finds our children geared up for busy, active days and oftentimes, hectic schedules.  As parents get the family in gear for those long days filled with games at tournaments,  it is our youth athletes who must perform all day with precious few opportunities to  refuel properly before each game. We expect our youngsters to stay focused, energized, and able to play their best with so little time to refuel between games, therefore burning high quality, “high octane” fuel is necessary.

Let’s support the kids as much as possible by providing healthy snacks, proper fluids, and the best lunches for these long tournaments.  Games or meet schedules are subject to change, even on game day, so plan and pack lunches accordingly. Help youth athletes create eating routines to stay energized without the ups and downs of blood sugar fluctuations.

Realize that the high-end amateurs and professionals that your children aspire to become do not run on Captain Crunch, Pop Tarts, and the like, so set an example and teach your kids how to eat to win.

Here is an example of a solid routine you can rely on:

  • Pack enough snacks to eat every 2-3 hours and/or between games or heats.
  • Have a water bottle filled with cool water (or a lower sugar sports drink for activities lasting longer than 60 minutes). Athletes should be drinking fluids frequently throughout the day.
  • Prepare lunch so your athlete does not run low on fuel.
  • For sports performance, focus on foods that provide the best fuel and are acceptable to picky eaters.  Tournament day is not the best time to test out new foods or get your 30 grams of fiber/day.  We will discuss the specific types of foods that best fuel sports performance in a separate article.

According to sports nutritionist, Susan Kleiner, PhD, R.D, author of  the best sellers  Power Eating, 3rd Edition and  The Powerfood Nutrition Plan and  consultant to amateur, professional and Olympic athletes, when fueling before games youth athletes must obtain the proper combination of carbohydrates and protein with minimal fats. Seek out carbohydrates that are digested quickly, combined with protein to sustain energy. Know that fats slow down digestion, and too much fiber can lead to cramping.

When it comes to tournament time, use this chart to serve as a resource:

Snacks for before games

Timing Goal Food options
90 minutes + before:
  • 16 oz. of fluids before first game
  • Combine low to moderate glycemic carbohydrates with protein and fluid
  • Low: fats,  sugars & fiber

Ideally 250 -400 calories

  • Hardboiled egg and crackers
  • Yogurt with fruit and honey
  • Lower sugar cereal with fruit and milk
  • Medium apple with peanut butter
  • String cheese with handful of nuts
  • Turkey sandwich (whole wheat bread)
  • Crackers with orange
  • Pretzels with grapes
  • Smoothie with non-fat milk or milk alternative
  • Whole wheat pasta or rice with chicken and tomato sauce
  • USANA nutrition bar with  apple or cheese
  • USANA’s whey Nutrimeal with 4- 5 scoops (meal replacement with carbs, protein, minimal fats) or 3 scoops plus nonfat or low-fat milk for snack

Half-Time Snacks or Between Games (Less Than 60 Minutes To Rest)

Timing Goals Food Options
Less than 60 minutes to


  • Sustain fast burst energy with moderate glycemic carbohydrates such as fruit
  • Focus on  replenishing fluids (4-8 oz. every 15-20 min)
  • Use electrolytes if playing high intensity sport
  • Use sport drink when exercising longer than 60 min. and water for less than 60 min.
  • Bananas (use ½ for younger kids)
  • Peeled orange or clementine slices
  • Grapes (small serving)
  • Melon chunks
  • Apple wedges

Meal Choices During Tournaments

Timing Goals Food options
Between games for

1-2 hours before next


  • Bring your lunch and plan ahead for snacks and adequate fluids
  • Avoid high sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates due to high fluctuations in blood sugar
  • Avoid high-fiber or gas-forming foods like beans or anything that can upset your stomach while your body is in motion.
  • Combine carbohydrates with  protein and fluid or sports drink
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (whole wheat) with fruit or veggies
  • Peanut butter on a bagel with fruit or veggies
  • Lean meat sandwiches with chicken or turkey with fruit or veggies
  • Whole Wheat pasta with vegetables
  • Baked potatoes: Top baked potato with chili instead of fatty cheese sauce
  • Regular sized sandwich lower in fat, side salad, low-fat milk or milk alternative

Best Fast Food Options For Tournaments

I do not recommend that you seek out fast food options, but realize that in a pinch it is often the only option. Please use these options sparingly in favor of better planning options discussed above.

Goal Food Options
  • If you must eat fast food focus on the best options for fuel
  • Stay away from fried foods
  • Avoid soft drinks & juice
  • Drink low-fat or nonfat milk or water
  • Mexican: Do not eat the high-fat tortilla shells from tacos or taco salads. Avoid sour cream & secret sauces
  • Chipotle: Burrito w/o sour cream
  • Subway: Turkey breast wrap or sandwich
  • Burger King: Grilled Chicken Sandwich (no sauce)
  • McDonald’s: Grilled Chicken classic sandwich, Bacon Ranch salad with grilled chicken, fruit & yogurt parfait
  • Wendy’s: Broccoli & cheese baked potato
  • Pizza Hut: 1 slice of thin cheese, chicken, ham, or veggie pizza
  • Dessert: frozen yogurt

As a Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach with an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling, I prepare young athletes and their parents to improve eating lifestyles, increase energy, lose weight, and improve performance. Take a  Free health assessment and discover a personalized path to a healthier, happier life. For more information, contact me at

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