sports nutrition

Navigating the Young Athlete's Early Morning & Evening Practices

One of the most common questions I get from parents and athletes is how to eat around early morning before-school practices and those tricky 6PM and 7PM games and practices. What should you eat before that won’t interfere with the athlete’s event? Should they eat something before? What about after? What do you do about these games and practices that are smack in the middle of meal time?

My answer to this question, whether it is breakfast or dinner is to divide the meal into Meal 1 and Meal 2 and include the more easily digested items in Meal 1 (think quality carbohydrates) and those less-easily digested items in Meal 2 (think more protein, fiber and healthy fats). In this post I’m going to try to simplify and break it down for you to get a better picture of what this would look like and why….

Meal #1 (the pre-event meal)

  • The focus of this Meal #1 is to provide energy to the athlete. To make sure energy stores are full and ready for play and practice. If an athlete heads out to practice with an empty tank or depleted energy stores (from running around at school all day and not having eaten since school lunch) they will not be able to play or practice at their best and could even run a higher risk of injury.

  • This meal should consist of quality carbohydrates because these are more easily digested in the body, which means they can act as a quicker source of energy that will not lead to digestive problems mid-event.

  • Examples of these quality carbohydrate meal components might be: pasta, rice, fruit, baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, whole or half of a PB&J or turkey sandwich, chicken noodle soup, crackers with some hummus or peanut butter (careful with too much of peanut butter or hummus because they do contain fat and, if eaten too close to events, could cause stomach problems during the event), dry cereal, waffle(s), slice or two of toast with jam, simple granola bar.

Meal #2 (the post-event meal)

  • The focus of Meal #2 is to replenish used up energy stores, to provide protein and other nutrients to the muscles so that they can repair and rebuild, to provide some healthy fats which can aid in recovery and decreased inflammation, and to overall satisfy and fill up the athlete.

  • This meal is especially important if the athlete has another game or practice the following morning or later that day.

  • Examples of these meal components might be:

    • Protein: chicken, turkey, lean ground beef, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, milk, yogurt, cheese

    • Healthy fats: salmon, tuna, avocado, flaxseed, chia seeds, nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, olive oil (can be in salad dressings, etc.), tahini

    • Quality Carbohydrate: use the examples listed for Meal #1 ideas


A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT EARLY MORNING PRACTICE NUTRITION

Sometimes the athlete really cannot eat in the mornings before an early morning before-school practice (I see this a lot with runners, sometimes gymnasts, and I struggled with it as a figure skater growing up). In these cases it could be good to try:

  1. Have a liquid form of nutrition or something very basic for breakfast. Examples include: fruit juice, fresh or dried fruit, a shake, a little bit of a sports drink.

  2. If an early morning bite or drink is absolutely not doable, move over to focusing on dinner the night before. If dinner was early, incorporate a before-bed snack like a bowl of cereal, yogurt, granola bar with some peanut butter, something that can carry over so that the athlete’s fuel tank is not completely depleted when they wake up in the morning and head to practice.

  3. In these cases, make sure the athlete is getting something substantial as his or her post-event Breakfast #2. This could look like anything from a Greek yogurt with granola and a banana, to a granola bar, a milk carton and grapes, to 2 hard boiled eggs + fruit, to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a carton of milk.

Those odd-hour events can be tricky, but with a plan and simple meal or food ideas, keeping your young athlete fueled can be done! As I sign off, I’m leaving you with one last list of ideas to take with you this month.

Happy Fueling!

Taylor


Early Morning Practice Meal Ideas for the Young Athlete

BREAKFAST 1

  • Glass of juice

  • Medium banana or other fruit

  • Dry cereal (ex: Cheerios, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Chex, etc.)

  • Dried fruit

  • Fruit smoothie (made with fruit and water or some juice)

  • Breakfast shake like Carnation Instant Breakfast (tolerance may depend on athlete and on sport being played)

  • Slice(s) of toast with jam or honey

  • Simple granola bar (ex: Quaker chewy or soft Nutrigrain) or fig bar (low in fiber & protein)

  • Low-fat yogurt

BREAKFAST 2

I LOVE these easy   Egg Cups  !

I LOVE these easy Egg Cups!

  • Hardboiled egg(s) + cheese stick + grapes

  • Peanut butter and jelly or honey sandwich

  • Greek yogurt + granola + sliced strawberries

  • Pre-made egg sandwich (egg(s) on a whole wheat English muffin with cheese) + fruit

  • Chocolate milk + whole grain granola bar

  • Turkey & cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread (remember that Breakfast doesn’t have to mean only breakfast foods!)

  • Peanut butter crackers + glass of white or chocolate milk

  • To-go oatmeal cup (just add milk or water) + banana

  • Cottage cheese + fresh fruit + whole grain crackers

  • Pre-baked egg cups + fruit or a granola bar or whole grain crackers




Evening Event Meal Ideas for the Young Athlete

DINNER 1

  • Baked white or baked sweet potato

  • Pasta with marinara sauce

  • Turkey sandwich

  • Pasta salad

  • Bowl of cereal (just like breakfast doesn’t have to mean “breakfast food”, dinner doesn’t always have to mean “dinner food”!)

  • Mini pizzas (on flatbread or English muffins with marinara, a sprinkle of cheese and any veggie toppings your athlete would like)

DINNER 2

I’m such of fan of this simple mayo-free   chicken salad!

I’m such of fan of this simple mayo-free chicken salad!

And these hearty flavor-packed 7-ingredient   tuna burgers!

And these hearty flavor-packed 7-ingredient tuna burgers!

  • Baked chicken + veggies + whole grain roll

  • Grilled salmon + salad + glass of milk

  • Spaghetti with meatballs

  • Tuna or chicken salad

  • Omelet with veggies and cheese + slice of whole wheat bread

  • Glass of milk / chocolate milk

  • Greek yogurt with fruit

  • Avocado toast topped with a scrambled egg(s)

  • Chicken sandwich + veggies

  • Lean ground hamburger + veggies

  • Tuna Burgers - just the patty or with the bun - whatever your athlete needs!

Farewell to Lunchtime Chicken Fingers: Mastering the Pre-Game Meal

Yesssss.  It was chicken tender & french fry day at school.  My favorite.  For whatever reason, french fry day was a huge deal at our school.  Not sure why but once a week they were served.  And something about those chicken tenders... mmmm mmmmm.  Mouth watering just thinking about them.

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Right... mouth - watering until we fast-forward to about 4:00 that afternoon in the middle of cross country practice when I wanted to fall out on the Tuckahoe pavement (the street our practice runs often included), thinking maybe the SMS golf cart would appear like a knight in shining armor and cruise me back to the school (wishful thinking).  I realized in that moment that chicken tenders and fries may not be my body's fuel of choice and this was the way it decided to get my attention.

Cross country practice began at 3:30 and that particular day was a long run day.  Typically I would run at a pretty nice clip.  I'm mentally competitive with myself more than anyone else and would refuse to stop until I had reached the end.  Well, clearly this day was different.  I made it about 8 minutes and it all fell apart.  Nausea, stomach cramping, fatigue, you name it.  After deciding that lying down in the middle of the street waiting for a golf cart to come pick me up was probably not going to end in my favor, I walked the majority of the route back and finally finished with not only my worst time, but also feeling the worst I had ever felt after a run.  Now, I don't know if my lunchtime choice was the only culprit, but that was the only factor different than any other day.  I decided then and there that future lunches would be different.  Fried food clearly did nothing for me and if I was going to go to practice, I wanted it to be beneficial.

The next day and all of the days following were new days.  Of course I still enjoyed my chicken tenders and fries, but certainly not as my pre-run meal.  I started experimenting with different foods and different food combinations and took notice of how I practiced and how I felt at afternoon practices.  I found my ideal fueling lunch to include complex carbohydrates (fruits, whole grain crackers, whole-wheat pita, and / or low fat yogurts), a source of protein (peanut butter, string cheese, tuna, turkey, or chicken) and some healthy fats here and there (peanut butter, almonds, hummus, avocado, and olive oil).  I never had a practice like that again and, as I started to be more thoughtful with my school lunches and meal and snack timing, I saw myself get stronger and faster, both in my running and in my skating, as the weeks went on.  

Now, with this post I'm not saying no more fried food ever again.  I'm simply saying that if you want better performances and better practices, it's time to move the fried foods (or any other foods that can be harder to digest or leave you tired during events) over to make room for the more nutrient-dense foods that fuel those hard-working muscles and brain and propel you towards the finish line (especially when planning your pre-event meal!!).

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

10 simple ideas for the Young Athlete’s pre-game meal

(This meal is typically consumed 3 to 4 hours before the event. you may also need a pre-event snack, which you can find ideas for in my previous post here.)

  • Turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato and dijon mustard. Cheese, if tolerated. I love my Turkey Melt that I posted a while back!

  • Stuffed Sweet Potato (I love my 9-Ingredient Stuffed Sweet Potato as a vegetarian option!)

  • Breakfast Sandwich like my 5-Ingredient Breakfast Sandwich!

  • A yogurt parfait or overnight oats (my go-to’s are these and these)

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly or Honey Sandwich with an apple and / or glass of milk

  • Pasta salad with chicken + yogurt or glass of milk and fruit

  • Chicken & Vegetable Soup + a whole grain roll or whole grain crackers (I love Kashi, Mary’s Gone Crackers and Crunchmaster) + mixed fruit

  • Low-fat cottage cheese + fruit + whole grain crackers and hummus

  • Tuna salad (made without mayo) sandwich or on crackers + an apple + yogurt

  • Homemade pizzas (ex: thick English muffins, marinara sauce, some veggies of choice, sliced chicken and a sprinkle of cheese) + fruit.

My Story: How Growing Up a Young Athlete Fueled My Passion for Sports Nutrition & Wellness

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Hi and Happy New Year!  While perusing through my different posts and articles over the Christmas holiday, I realized that I have not devoted one solid post to MY story and WHY I actually went into nutrition and dietetics.  I tell my story in the beginning of every new talk or presentation I give and, while I’ve provided a small blip of my story in my “About” page of this site, I realized I have not shared my story in detail with you, my readers.  So, today’s post is not a new yummy recipe or fact on sports nutrition. It is a post dedicated to helping you get to know me and the story behind what fuels my passion for sports nutrition and wellness. Every dietitian has his or her own story of why he or she decided to study nutrition.  Maybe it was a culinary interest or a sick family member that needed a feeding tube or a desire for research or being a collegiate athlete.  The potential reasons are numerous.  My story, however started back in high school.  


As most of you who follow along with me regularly know by now, I was an athlete growing up.  My mom took me ice skating at about 6 years old and I completely fell in love with the sport.  I can still remember a few days in the first grade waiting for school to be over because mom was picking me up and we were going ice skating that afternoon.  I can feel the excitement that I felt at the age of six and seven like it was yesterday.  Ha!  I also remember how badly I wanted my first pair of ice skates.  Every night I would wish that there would be a pair of ice skates at the end of my bed when I woke up the next morning.  I know, I was quite the optimist.  I tell you this to give you a clearer idea of my enthusiasm for this sport.  As I got older I (a) finally did get my own pair of skates and then (b) started training consistently before and after school and on Saturday mornings.  In the 8th grade I began going away to training camps in the summer.  For six summers I packed my suitcases and headed to Indianapolis where I trained for about six weeks, each almost 7-hour day filled with freestyles, jump and spin classes, off ice conditioning, on ice conditioning, ballet, choreography and more.  


In the 7th grade I decided I wanted to participate in a school sport which led me to join our cross country team. Cross country being the only school sport that I could do that would work with my skating.  I joined the cross country team to be with friends but I quickly started to love running as well.  As the years went on and I got into high school, I found myself competitively participating in, not only figure skating, but running as well.


I would say that I was a dedicated athlete. I wanted to get better, learn new techniques, improve my times and be the best that I could be. So, I showed up to practice, I did what my coaches asked, and made the grades in school, and, for a while that worked… until the day that it didn’t.  I reached a point in the beginning of high school where I felt like I stopped improving.  I practiced my hardest but my times were not improving in running and I wasn’t mastering more difficult elements in my skating.  I tried to figure out what I needed to do to get over the hurdle and, as I started to focus on this, two things happened that made me realize my missing link…


The first event was a skating competition where I competed around 12:30 pm.  I had an early morning practice and so breakfast was easy, but as my skate time approached, breakfast was a distant memory and I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the lunch meal.  I had morning competitions down.  I knew what to have for dinner the night before and what to eat for breakfast that morning to support a short but intense 3 to 4 minute program.  What I did not have a clear understanding of, however, was fueling for a 12:30 skate.  I wasn’t sure where to place lunch and so I came to the conclusion that it was either (a) go ahead and eat lunch and risk it not being digested before I performed or (b) skip it all together and eat a late lunch after my skate.  I chose (b) skipping lunch, but as soon as I went into my first jump of the performance I knew I had made the wrong decision.  That was the longest program ever.  I couldn’t keep my feet under me to save my life!  I fell everywhere.  Nerves seemed to magnify my low blood sugar and as soon as I got off the ice I promised myself I would always eat something before I performed. I’m not saying every performance was perfect after that, but if I did have a bad skate, it was not because of my low blood sugar.


The second big “Aha” moment was in my running.  There was a day where I ate the chicken fingers and fries for lunch and then went to cross country practice about 2 and a half hours later.  I am super competitive by nature and so even practices were 100% for me.  I really never walked unless that was what we were supposed to be doing.  I always ran my hardest.  However, this particular day I did not.  The chicken fingers and fries caught up with me and, feeling extremely nauseated, I walked what felt like the entire course.  After that practice I vowed, “no more fried food at lunch before runs”.  

I also realized during this time that, for the most part, even though I ate fried food and sweets and pretty much all foods, I was eating too little. At many times, I think I worried about eating too much. I was in two aesthetic sports that valued leanness and often times I think I was educated more so on what not to eat than I was educated on what to eat for strong bones, muscles, practices and performances. I don’t recall ever being educated on the dangers of eating too little. Although, my parents did always make me eat something or drink a little breakfast shake before my 5:45 morning practices. That was always non-negotiable.


All of these discoveries combined along with finally landing my double axel in high school made me realize that my missing link was my nutrition. I realized the value of showing up to practices with strength, energy and power and the necessity of food to give me that strength, energy and power.  I didn’t have a dietitian to turn to.  I didn’t even know what a dietitian was.  So, I started playing around with my meals and snacks on my own.  I brought different things for lunch and tried different snacks at different times of day.  I finally figured out what meals and snacks worked best for me to be energized and fueled but not full or weighed down for my early morning and afternoon runs and skates.  


It was eye opening for me to see the difference in my skating and running when I ate consistently and ate certain foods throughout the day.  Previously I had done whatever I wanted and most often, as I mentioned earlier, probably had not eaten enough.  As I paid attention to and changed up my food and nutrition my skating got stronger, I started landing harder jumps and my running times got faster.  Seeing and feeling the impact of food on my athletic performance is what peaked my interest for nutrition and led me to study nutrition in college and grad school, eventually making it my career.  I was certainly faced with opposition as people told me being a sports dietitian was a one in a million chance and that I shouldn’t choose that path if sports is what I wanted to do.  However, I’m so glad I chose it anyway.  While I certainly enjoy my work in wellness, at the heart of it all, I picked the nutrition field so that I could help young athletes understand food and nutrition, build a healthy relationship with food and nutrition and understand how to use it to be stronger, sharper, more competitive, and injury - free athletes. Actually, being an athlete is probably what most shaped my relationship with food and later spurred my interest in and enthusiasm for wellness.  I think about what I might have accomplished in my running and especially my skating had I figured the whole food thing out sooner.  

There is more to my story woven throughout here that further inspired and continues to inspire me to work with athletes, but those stories are for another time and another post.  This one is long enough :)  My goal in my practice, my programs, my presentations and my blog posts are to help athletes, both adult athletes and young athletes, understand and build a healthy relationship with food in relation to their sport.  I learned so much about food by being an athlete. Being an athlete helped me view food in a positive light, as the best source of fuel for the body, and it is what has shaped my overall food and wellness philosophy that I practice today. 

I hope that I can help athletes and even non-athletes understand food as well and see it in just as positive of a light. My goal this year is to not only help you understand nutrition, but also help you see how to put these nutrition principles into easy tangible practice, by showing you easy meal planning techniques, simple recipes and versatile meals idea.  Stay tuned in posts to come!

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Happy Fueling!

Taylor

Summer Sports Camp Fuel

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Just because it's summer doesn't mean the madness stops.  It seems to simply shift to a different routine of crazy as you juggle your own regular work schedule plus your athlete's morning practices, two-a-days, sports camps, and other summer activities, all while making sure you and your young athlete are fueled enough to get you both through the day.  Special attention is needed for young athletes who, depending on their sport, may have gone from a one to two-hour practice before school and / or a 2 to 3 hour practice after school to all-day sports camps consisting of breaks here and there throughout the day, but not much time for rest and recovery and often times out in the heat of the day.

So, let's talk SPORTS CAMP FUEL.  The goal here is to energize and to hydrate.  To provide quick fuel and also provide sustained energy.  "Quick", "totable", "simple" are the criteria for these meals and snacks - items that can be made before bed or assembled quickly in the morning before heading out for the day.

To hopefully make life a bit easier, below, I have compiled a list of snack ideas for camp with a little explanation of why they make great sports snacks.  For more ideas keep up with the blog, which will be featuring healthy fueling snacks throughout the months to come!


QUICK ENERGY WHEN YOUR CAMPER HAS A COOLER

  • Water

  • Smoothies (fluid, antioxidants, and carbohydrate from fruits and water / ice)

  • Fresh fruits (such as: grapes, tangerines, pineapple, watermelon, apple slices)

  • Mini bottles of a sports drink (like Gatorade)

 

QUICK ENERGY WITHOUT A COOLER

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  • Water

  • Pretzels or other salty crackers (quick carbohydrates + salt to replace sodium lost in sweat and help retain fluid)

  • Dried fruit (quick carbohydrate + antioxidants + some iron, depending on the dried fruit)

  • Whole grain cereal (low in fat and fiber)

  • Fresh fruit

  • Granola bars (low in fat and fiber)

  • Jam Sandwich on white bread (very quick carbohydrate)



 LONG-TERM ENERGY WHEN YOU OR YOUR CAMPER HAS A COOLER

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  • String Cheese

  • Turkey & Cheese Pita

  • Turkey & Hummus Wrap

  • Bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk

  • Nonfat Greek yogurt topped with fruit and a little low-fat granola

  • DIY Blackberry Burst yogurt (a Taylored Recipe)

  • Hummus & whole grain crackers (healthy fat, protein, fiber + a little iron)

  • Low-fat milk or chocolate milk (carbohydrate, potassium & protein - great snack to refuel)

  • Smoothies made with milk / yogurt

  • Fig & Cheddar Turkey Sandwich (a Taylored Recipe)

  • Sliced tomato or pineapple & cottage cheese

  • Pasta salad with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and Italian dressing

  • Quinoa / rice bowl with bell peppers, avocado, chopped grilled chicken & salsa

 

SUSTAINED ENERGY WITHOUT A COOLER

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  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich

  • Graham crackers with peanut butter topped with strawberry or banana slice

  • homemade trail mix (nuts, whole grain cereal & dried fruit)

  • Hearty whole grain granola bars with at least 6 grams of protein

  • Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bites

  • Popcorn

  • Pre-packaged oatmeal packets (if a microwave will be available)

  • Carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, baby tomatoes (as a side)

SNACKS THAT HYDRATE

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  • Water

  • Nonfat yogurts

  • Nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese

  • Smoothies

  • Fresh or frozen fruit

  • Fresh vegetable slices (such as: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumber)

  • Sports drinks

  • Apple sauce

  • Chocolate milk (great recovery drink after a long intense practice)

  • Vegetable juice (such as V8 or tomato juice)

Feel free to comment below with any questions or suggestions of things you do that work for you and your young athlete!

Happy Fueling! 

Taylor