Avoid the strike-out zone: Fueling properly for baseball

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Are we helping our weekend-warrior children fuel sufficiently for summer baseball season? Kids have plenty of energy, but we can boost their performance with the right pre-game prep in the kitchen. 

Summer signals the beginning of homework-free fun activities for many children and teens.  Whether your young ones spend time at day camp, swim team, tennis practice or cycling, they are expending a lot of energy, often during the heat of the day.  While we may be vigilant about their hydration, developing athletes also need to consume sufficient calories to meet the demands they are placing on their bodies.  This is necessary even in the case of non-continuous activity, such as a baseball game.

Little League practices and games seem to last forever, especially when the sun is searing and the runs are mounting.  We sit on the sidelines and cheer on our kids, making sure they know how supportive we are.  However, what young active bodies really need in terms of support is proper pre-game nutrition to fuel them through the hours ahead.  While nervous tummies may resist eating too much before a game, there are many choices we can offer that are both delicious and nutrient-dense. 3 to 4 hours before practice or play, a balanced whole-food meal need not be large in order to be effective.  If the game is in the morning, offer a slice of whole grain toast and a small omelet with veggies and low-fat cheese.  If your athlete is more of a cereal lover, oatmeal prepared with skim milk and topped with sliced bananas or slivered almonds provides protein plus sustained energy and fiber to power him or her through the game. 

If the scheduled activity is later in the day, a sandwich of lean protein on a whole grain roll or wrap is a perfect way to fill up the fuel tank without weighing down your star player. The addition of a small green salad will add Vitamin C to the mix as well. 

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As the team gathers and starts to prepare the lineup for the day, a small piece of fresh fruit keeps the energy supplies ready.  Ideally this will be 30-40 minutes before the start of the first inning. Let the cheering section assemble — excitement is building!

After the scores have been tallied and the teams have been congratulated, post-game nutrition is equally important, since re-fueling the depleted energy stores will help stave off undue soreness and overly fatigued muscles.  Just as adult athletes strive for a mix of protein and carbohydrates after a rigorous workout in the gym, our children require much the same menu.  A peanut butter sandwich and a glass of low-fat chocolate milk make for a delicious and nutritious winning combination.  If a frozen treat is more palatable, whip up a smoothie containing low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit, and a spoonful of oats, nuts or granola for a refreshing glycogen-replacing meal. For those on the go, a snack sack with an apple, string cheese and a few whole grain crackers is both portable and practical. 

While the rising temperatures may be a deterrent to eating, it is vital that we successfully manage our young ones’ athletic fuel and fluid requirements in order to make them both healthy and successful, on and off the field.