The Early Morning Game dilemma…and what’s worse, at our house, it’s a daily early morning practice! My daughter gets up at 4:30am to figure skate before school. Like her, many young athletes; swimmers, water polo players, rowers and hockey players all find themselves waking up at some ungodly hour and invariably not hungry to eat while it’s still dark out.
Reasons why kids don’t like to eat before early practices/games: (I’ve heard them all!)
- “It’s just too early!”
- “I’d rather sleep the extra 10 minutes”
- “I don’t feel like eating, nothing sounds good”
- “If I eat before my practice/game, I’ll feel sick to my stomach”
Reasons why young athletes NEED to eat before early morning games/practices:
- As the word breakfast indicates, they need to “break the fast” of the night (they go 8-9 hours without eating) and restart the metabolism
- Glycogen gives athletes energy, and it needs to be replenished frequently, especially BEFORE playing or training.
- Eating before practice or game will result in increased endurance and better performance
- They’re up early to play or train (and so are you!), so make sure they make the most of it!
The Pre-Game/Practice meal should consist of mostly carbohydrates and should be easy to digest. You want your athlete to have enough energy to play or practice and stay focused.
Strategies for Eating Before the Early Morning Game/Practice
- Preparation starts the NIGHT BEFORE: Have your player eat a meal the night before that consists of mostly complex carbohydrates (45%); a meal based on whole grain pasta, rice, or potatoes. This meal should also include fruits and vegetables (35%), a small amount of lean protein (chicken, fish, eggs, beans) (15%) and some healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, about 5%).
- In the morning, have your athlete eat as soon as he/she wakes up! This will allow for some time for digestion. Handing your son/daughter a bagel on her way from the car to the field will make him/her uncomfortable for the entire game.
- Don’t Forget About the Fluids!!! Athletes should drink well the day before and start sipping water when they wake up and while in route to the game or practice.
- IMPORTANT POINT! Whatever your athlete chooses to eat and drink before games should be familiar to their bodies; kids are all different and have different metabolisms. This would NOT be a good time to experiment with new foods!
What your young athlete will gain from eating breakfast:
- More energy for the game or for training
- Increase his/her performance (especially towards the end of the game or practice)
- Better concentration and enhanced decision-making
- Be in better shape for additional games or practices that day
Early Morning Game/Practice Meal Ideas
If you don’t have 3-4 hours to digest a full breakfast, keep it simple!
- Small smoothie
- Piece of toast with nut butter
- 1-2 pieces of fruit (bananas, oranges, anything!)
- Small bowl of cereal and fruit
- Granola bar
- A few small pancakes
- A fruit muffin
So, after debating the subject for countless hours, I have gotten my daughter to agree to eat something: she eats a bag of cheerios with a small glass of milk on the side because she doesn’t “like the cereal with the milk that early in the morning?!”…whatever works!