Eating out is the last of the youth athlete travel issues we will cover in this series. It is one of the most important factors to staying healthy and energized for competition. When you add in the travel time, time change, hotel stay and competition downtime, there are a large number of issues youth athletes need to deal with.
No one works up an appetite quite like youth athletes, and going on the road means teams will be eating out at least a few times before returning home. It’s up to coaches and parents along for the trip to emphasize proper sports nutrition in these situations. Eat out is generally a huge treat for youth athletes. Left to their own devices, many will mismanage the situation and make poor choices on what foods they put into their bodies before and after athletic competitions.
A good first line of defense against poor youth athlete nutrition is to coordinate between coaches and parents so that all athletes bring or are provided with healthy snacks to curb cravings while on the road and in different cities for competition. Proper hydration is even more important. Coaches and parents should make sure their youth athletes always have water available to keep them healthy and hydrated throughout the day.
Eventually, individual athletes or teams will wind up at a restaurant – be it at the hotel or just a national chain. Parents and coaches must be vigilant in helping youth athletes make the proper choices to ensure their bodies are properly fueled before competition and rebuilt afterwards. This means no eating out at a pizza buffet or McDonald’s just because it’s convenient and the popular choice. Coaches and parents should scout out restaurants in the surrounding area of the competition arena as well as the hotel in advance of the trip, and either pick the restaurants themselves, or give youth athletes a choice of where to go.
Once at the restaurant, parents and coaches should go around the table to hear what each athlete plans on ordering for the meal, again, stay away from buffets!, If choices are not up to expectations for each youth athlete’s nutrition, they can be discussed at the table before the waiter/waitress comes, which will diminish the potential for confrontations or lectures in front of the whole team which is a surefire demoralizer. While coaches and parents have to be a bit like drill sergeants in lots of situations on the road, there is always room for flexibility. An ice cream cone or a chocolate milkshake at the end of a long competition or after a particularly satisfying victory at the end of a tournament not only gives positive reinforcement to youth athletes, it also lets them know that their coaches and parents still remember that they are, after all, still kids.