For athletes, arriving to games and practices with enough water in their system is a must.

By Molly Morgan, FNF Coaches Contributor

Food is fuel.

This motto applies to any sport. Food will provide the body with the energy (calories) and nutrients to fuel and refuel for every sport. What players do and do not eat will impact their performance. Having enough energy can help keep athletes in the game and playing their best.

Hydrate properly.

For athletes, arriving to games and practices with enough water in their system is a must. When they are playing more than one sport, keeping up with fluid losses can be challenging. If they can do it, they should feel a sense of accomplishment.

They should get in the habit of always having a water bottle with them to sip fluids throughout the day. This will help ensure that they are maintaining adequate hydration levels. For back-to-back workouts or games lasting longer than one hour, athletes should consider sports drinks to help keep energy levels up. To keep an eye on hydration, players can monitor urine color. Hydrated urine is pale lemonade color and is an indication that the body is hydrated.

Fuel and refuel.

When athletes are jumping from one sport to another, having a game plan for food becomes key – otherwise they can wind up running low on energy. They should fuel up before games or practices with foods that deliver some carbohydrates and protein, and that are lower in fat. Examples include whole grain cereal with sliced banana and milk; toast with nut butter and a piece of fruit; whole grain fruit bar, almonds and banana; whole grain bread with turkey and cheese.

After games or practices – or on the way to the next event – an athlete should refuel the body with fluids, carbs, and protein. In fact, chocolate milk is a great fueling drink that provides athletes with fluid, carbs and protein. Athletes should bring along shelf-stable chocolate milk boxes or grab a bottle of chocolate milk on the way to the next sporting event. The carbs are key to help refuel tired muscles.

Plan ahead for fueling purposes.

Refueling on the go between sports can be a challenge. Athletes should stock up on easy-to-pack items like shelf-stable chocolate milk boxes, 100-percent fruit juice boxes, sports drinks, bags of nuts and seeds, pretzels, mini bagels, nut butter packs, whole grain fruit bars, and bananas. Athletes should bring items with them so that they have quick, healthier go-to options. In my car, there is always a stash of fruit and nut bars, whole-grain fruit bars, nuts and seeds, so my family has easy access to healthier options.

If it’s going to be a longer day, athletes should bring along a cooler with an ice pack for more substantial items like turkey and cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt cups, cheese sticks and sliced fruit.

It’s all about balance.

Enjoying sugary and high-fat foods like soda and french fries is fine on occasion. Although choosing super-sugary foods or high-fat foods between exercise sessions or before games could negatively impact your players’ performance and will not optimally fuel their bodies. Encourage them to enjoy those foods when their games and practices are done.

It’s not just about game day.

I often see players focus just on what they are eating on game days or the day before a game. While that is important, it is equally important to have plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats coming in every day. If an athlete or his family is struggling with healthy eating routines and goals, working with a registered dietitian to set eating plans and goals can help. To find a registered dietitian near you, visit www.eatright.org/.

Do you have a thought about this article that you would like to share? If you do, email managing editor Dan Guttenplan at dguttenplan@ae-engine.com. Tweet us @fnfcoaches.

About the author

Dan Guttenplan