Anyone that plays a club or AAU sport is familiar with the world of travel tournaments. Whether it be a two or three-day tournament, there’s one thing they all have in common, no matter the sport: long days with short breaks and minimal food choices.
Picture this: you are an athlete; after having traveled hours by car, bus, or even plane, you just finished playing two games and finally have a break. You are famished; your stomach is rumbling, and you are exhausted and feel lucky you didn’t pass out during that last match. You need to eat something, and you only have about 20 minutes to do so before you’re due to play again. What can you do to fill up your stomach without weighing you down?
The following are some options to ensure you are well-prepared for these types of tournaments to stay hydrated and fed to appropriately fuel your body for peak performance:
1. Never leave home without snacks!
Every athlete’s bag should have snack foods that will keep you energized in a pinch. Some examples of food items that not only fuel the body but also travel well are:
- Granola Bars
- Apples or Oranges
- Fruit Muffins
- Baked Goods like Oatmeal Cookies or Banana Bread
- Trail Mix
2. Do your research!
Anytime I’ve competed on the road as an athlete or a coach, I always like to arrive a few minutes early to check out the food options at the concessions. Every convention or sports center is different and will offer different options. Here are some tips for concession food:
Don’t be tempted by the fried food selections!
Chicken fingers, fries, burgers, and hot dogs are all staples at every concession stand and will undoubtedly weigh you down, making you sluggish and slow; not to mention at risk for getting sick on the court!
Look beyond the grease!
9 times out of 10, there is a refrigerated section with salads and freshly made sandwiches and wraps. They are not proudly displayed, like the greasy options, but they are there. Be sure to snag them up before they sell out.
Try out different concession stands.
Bigger venues like convention centers will have multiple food spots. Most people assume they all sell the same thing, but more often than not, that is not the case. At a recent tournament where my team was playing at a convention center, there were three concessions stands, all spread out around the numerous courts. They all sold fried food. But in addition, they each sold healthy options too! One was making freshly made protein bowls with yogurt, granola and fruit. One had fresh salads and wraps and the other had various flavors of popcorn.
3. Get your team parents to plan and prepare snack bags!
Put each parent in charge of supplying enough of one item for the team, you can fill a snack bag with fruit, granola, muffins, breakfast biscuits and more! It’s also a fun team bonding activity to make the bags together.
4. Consider grabbing food from outside the tournament.
As a youth athlete with siblings who also played sports, I often traveled alone to my tournaments, as I do today as a coach. So, I didn’t have a parent to run out to the local deli to grab me lunch in time for my break. However, there’s always a willing parent that’s heading that way and would be happy to pick up something extra for you as well. Speak up when they offer and take them up on the favor! Your body and your team will thank you.
Whether you’re a player, parent, coach, or staff member at these long tournament weekends, one thing we all have in common is that we need to eat and fuel our bodies to make it through the long hours of competition. But athletes need more than just food. They need energy and an inner balance to perform at their peak.
Many factors go into being an effective athlete during travel tournaments. Proper rest, an effective warmup, mental toughness, positivity, determination, and endurance all tend to be the main focal points. But without proper nutrition, a youth athlete’s body simply cannot keep up. Without the right fuel, the body will quickly become sluggish, slow, and sloppy. A body that lacks protein is more at risk for injury, and its mind is quick to follow. A lack of nutrition causes the brain’s reaction time to slow, which is detrimental to an athlete’s performance.
So next time you’re preparing for a tournament, packing your bag, researching your travel method and check-in times at your hotel, be sure to do the same for your food choices. Pack nutritious snacks, and research the food options in and around where you’ll be playing. No matter how your team plays or your overall wins or losses, you can take solace in knowing that you did the best you could to bring your A game.