If you tell kids to be healthy just because, it doesn’t mean a lot to them. If you tell them to eat two hours before a game and see if they have more energy in the first half, they’re more interested.

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AS A TEENAGER, I didn’t pay much attention to what I ate. Doritos worked as post-tennis practice fuel until dinner was ready.

I knew chips weren’t good for me, but I was hungry, and my teenager self didn’t care. If I had known what I ate would make a difference in how I performed, however, I might have made more effort to shun the junk.

That shift in perspective is what local nutritionist Cynthia Lair aims for with her book, co-written with Dr. Scott Murdoch, “Feeding the Young Athlete.” Her book isn’t new, but it’s filled with good information.

Lair was dismayed to see how much junk food and sugar kids on her daughter’s soccer team ate after practice. The Bastyr University nutrition assistant professor started bringing healthy snacks and talked to her daughter’s friends about how they played when they ate healthier.

If you tell kids to be healthy just because, Lair said, it doesn’t mean a lot to them. If you tell them to eat two hours before a game and see if they have more energy in the first half, they are more interested. Get a coach to send that message and kids are even more likely to do it.

“When they can actually feel a difference, that’s way, way more convincing than some adult telling them to eat better,” she said.

Some of the book’s key tips:


Your body needs time to transform food into glycogen, or muscle energy. If you eat immediately before a game, your body won’t have a chance to turn the food into fuel. Look at your schedule and build your timeline back from there.

• Pregame: Eat two to three hours before a game or intense workout. Add a light snack an hour before a game if needed.

• Midgame: Bring along a juicy fruit or a drink with electrolytes to stay hydrated at halftime or midway through an extended workout.

• Postgame: Eat within 30 minutes post-play to refuel your body. This is the time when our muscles replenish even faster, turning carbohydrates into glycogen. Lair calls it your glycogen window.

Types of food

• Pregame: Eat pasta, rice, bread or potatoes plus vegetables and some protein. Don’t stuff yourself. If you need another snack, keep it light — fresh fruit, crackers, bread.

• Midgame snack: Eat fruit with high water content (orange, melon, grapes) and fluids with carbs, like a homemade sports drink (1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, 2 quarts water).

• Postgame: Eat a 4-to-1 carbs-to-protein ratio, like rice cakes with almond butter and an apple, or fresh vegetables and dip. Your snack will stimulate insulin, helping glucose transform into glycogen. Keep it appetizer-size small.

Five bad eating habits to quash:

• Skipping meals: If you skip meals, your muscles won’t have enough glycogen during intense games or workouts.

• Drinking only when thirsty: When dehydrated, your body diverts energy to regulate body temperature. The body also steals water from the bloodstream and cells. This can lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke or muscle cramps on game day.

• Eating on the run: Slow down and taste your food to support better digestion and, thus, athletic performance.

• Depending on supplements: Instead, get your nutrition from whole foods.

• Choosing foods that steal energy: High-fat foods do not metabolize quickly, making them a poor choice on game day. High sugar foods give an initial rush of energy followed by sluggishness and/or irritability.