A midday meal is a must whenever you have afternoon action planned. If you’re opting for cafeteria-style grub and need a hunch on what to munch, pay attention to this meal from Cheryl Zonkowski, director of sports nutrition at the University of Florida. She recommends a ham sandwich on wheat, paired with a bag of baked chips, some fruit and a side salad.
Pre-activity: Three hours before
Your midday meal serves as the primary fuel source for afternoon practices and games. According to Zonkowski, balance is crucial, no matter what you pack on your plate. To sustain your energy until you hit the field, court or pool, Zonkowski recommends eating complex carbs, such as rice, pasta or wheat bread. She also suggests including a protein source—the leaner, the better. Two top options include a turkey or ham sandwich, preferably with a low fat cheese, like provolone, which sits well. Then throw on a condiment like mustard, because higher fat condiments [and fatty foods in general], like mayonnaise, sit longer in your stomach and don’t digest well. She says, “If you [eat] something really high in fat, it’s going to make you feel heavier and weighed down. You’ll want to nap [rather] than go play ball.”
If fried chicken is offered on the menu, Zonkowski suggests peeling off the skin and eating what’s underneath. That way, “You’re peeling off most of the fat, so you’re still getting a relatively lean protein source.” If you’re opting to put down some pizza, Zonkowski notes it’s “not necessarily a terrible fueling food. You’re technically meeting a lot of your food groups.” She just suggests adding a salad and a bottle of Gatorade to balance the meal, because what you gulp down fluid-wise matters, too.
“There’s a difference between hydrating and non-hydrating beverages,” Zonkowski says. “Hydrating beverages are…things like sports beverages, Crystal Light and Propel. They’re relatively low in calories, so your body considers them fluid[s], [and] treats [them] pretty much [like] water.”
Non-hydrating beverages include milks and juices. Zonkowski says they are solid options during lunch, in addition to hydrating beverages; however, she does not recommend them immediately before activity, because they’re nutrient-dense—packed with vitamins, minerals and calories. “Even though [both] are technically [fluids], [your body uses] more of the nutrients in [them] than it actually [uses as] fluid,” she says.
Digging in a la carte? Zonkowski suggests being more performance-conscious by choosing baked sides when offered. A popular first-tier option is a baked potato, with a sprinkling of “a little shredded cheese to give it more flavor.” A bag of baked chips is another good pick. “Most schools are going to have some kind of baked potato chip,” she says. “Whether they’re regular, barbeque or sour cream, [it] doesn’t really matter…at least they’re baked [instead of] fried.”
If you favor French fries, make sure they’re not the only food you put down. Zonkowski says, “The only thing [you] get out of that is carbohydrates and fat, so you’re missing the entire [protein] piece of the puzzle,” she says. Likewise, if you’re feeding solely on meat, your meal is lacking the body’s essential fuel source, carbs. Just digging into a salad won’t cut it, either. To resolve nutrient imbalances, Zonkowski recommends sampling carbs, protein and fat together.
*Sandwich on wheat bread with five slices of ham and mustard; single-serving bag of baked chips; 1 banana; salad with vinaigrette dressing; water