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Published on September 21, 2021

school lunch box healthy foods and water

Optimize Lunches and Snacks for Your Student Athlete

What goes into their lunch or snacks for those busy athletes of all ages?

Athletes need proper nutrition to enhance sports performance. High school athletes typically have greater protein and carbohydrate needs compared to their less-active peers. Each meal is an opportunity to improve athletic performance and energize the muscles.

Benefits of healthy eating for young athletes:

  • Injury prevention
  • Strengthening of the immune system
  • Decreased muscle tiredness and soreness
  • Muscle healing and recovery
  • Improved energy levels
  • Increased focus and attention span

Items to Include in Backpack Snacks

A healthy, balanced mid-day snack will provide brain-boosting energy to get through the day. A proper backpack snack should contain a carbohydrate and a protein source. Carbohydrates are important as they are the main fuel source for athletes. Protein is needed to build strong muscles and repair them. Pair the two macronutrients together for a powerful snack.

Easy Snacks for In-Between Classes

  • Trail Mix
  • Energy Bites
  • Kind Bar
  • Apple and Cheese Stick
  • Hard-boiled eggs, crackers, grapes, carrots
  • Pretzel and hummus packs

Tip: If your snack does not need to be refrigerated, pack it in your backpack the night before to prevent forgetting in the morning!

How to Strengthen School Lunches

Whether you are packing your lunch from home or eating at school, there are ways to build a performance enhancing meal. A strong lunch should include protein, healthy carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Including these macronutrients into an athlete’s school lunch will help optimize training and decrease risk of injury.

Pick a Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat

  • Protein: lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and nuts
  • Carbohydrate: Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and yogurt
  • Fat: nuts and butters, seeds, avocado and dairy products

Some additional tips to build up school lunch are straightforward. You can ask for extra portions, and also try these approaches:

  • Pack a turkey or PB&J sandwich if extra portions are not available
  • Drink milk with your lunch
  • Add a yogurt or drinkable yogurt
  • Add a fun snack like fruit leather, fruit snacks or goldfish

An overall balanced diet is what growing athletes need to maintain proper growth and optimize athletic performance. It is important that athletes eat enough to have the energy needed to be successful in sports.

By Avera Human Performance Center Dietetic Intern Karleigh Sudenga

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