Youth, high school, and college athletes are all too familiar with the challenge of finding quick, affordable meals that are healthy and allow optimal performance. All of us know or remember the team bus stopping at a group of fast food restaurants, the coach handing each player a small amount of money, and the only advice given about the meal being what time to return. I discussed these trips with Stacy Renouf, a sports nutrition consultant. She gives the following advice to elite athletes and young athletes alike for eating healthy when traveling.
A pro sports team certainly has more options than the average youth or high school team for financial reasons, but they don’t have Manchester United’s resources either. They don’t get their meals catered or have special foods delivered like many high-profile teams. Despite this fact, the team does not have to eat only fast food. In fact, Renouf discourages it. “Avoid fast food if you can. Sit-down meals at restaurants generally offer healthier options and better variety. Plus they offer high carbohydrate foods like breads, pasta, and potatoes, which are essential when playing multiple games in a weekend.”
In addition to meal choices, Renouf emphasizes that it is critical to plan ahead and pack snacks and recovery foods. These snacks can be individually packaged and therefore portable while still being affordable and optimizing performance. She recommends bags of fruit, or fruit cups, granola bars, cereal bars, and other energy bars.
And cheap sources of immediate energy are more accessible than you might think. Renouf points out that sugar candies such as Skittles, while not being appropriate for meals or even routine snacks, can provide quick energy right before games or during them.
Recovery drinks and foods don’t have to be hard to find if you plan ahead. “Peanut butter sandwiches are great because they provide carbs with the bread and protein with the peanut butter,” Renouf adds. And while she notes that traditional sports drinks are acceptable, she offers another less known suggestion – ultra-high-temperature pasteurized milk. “It is great as a recovery drink because it is cheap, comes in individual boxes, can be stored at room temperature, and comes in white, chocolate, and strawberry flavors.”
So next time you or your kids have a soccer tournament or other sports competition out of town, don’t choose fast food. Instead, make the same choices professional athletes do – eat at healthy restaurants and bring cheap and healthy snacks and recovery foods.