- A new study found that kids participating in sports activities such as soccer, football, baseball, and softball often eat more calories in postgame snacks than they burn during the game.
- In the study, kids burned an average of 170 calories per game, while their snacks averaged 213 calories.
- Almost 90 percent of those postgame snacks contained added sugar, amounting to an average 26.4 grams of sugar per serving — more than the total recommended daily sugar intake of 25 grams for kids.
The postgame snack is a childhood tradition that goes back generations.
Many of today’s parents may fondly remember the orange slices and Dixie cups of water they shared with friends after games back in the day.
But as with so many things, this generation of parents has stepped the postgame snack up a level or two, with individual Gatorades and homemade cookies being handed out to every kid after every game.
However, these upgraded snack options may not be as beneficial as they’re intended to be.
Recent research out of Brigham Young University has found that today’s postgame snacks are actually higher in calories than what kids usually burn during game time.
It turns out, all those good snack intentions may be doing more harm than good for the health of those players on the field.
Researchers observed the postgame snacking habits of 3rd and 4th grade soccer, football, baseball, and softball players over the course of 189 games. They tracked the physical activity of players as well as the caloric intake of postgame snacks.
What they found was that while kids burned an average of 170 calories per game, their snacks averaged 213 calories. And almost 90 percent of those postgame snacks contained added sugar, amounting to an average 26.4 grams of sugar per serving.
This is more than the total recommended daily sugar intake for kids of 25 grams.
Part of the problem comes down to the lack of physical activity typically taking place during these games.
“According to this study, children averaged just 27 minutes of activity per game, with some sports like softball being even less than that,” said pediatrician Jay Lovenheim of Lovenheim Pediatrics.
“The current recommendation is for children 5 and older to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day,” Lovenheim said.
“Based on this information, the amount of activity most children do in an average activity does not warrant postgame treats.”
While the news that a postgame snack may be completely unnecessary is probably a shock to parents who grew up enjoying their own postgame snacks, pediatric registered dietitian Jodi Greebel agreed.
“Most kids in regular sports activities do not need a postgame snack,” she explained.
Unless your kids are playing high-intensity sports for several hours a day, those postgame snacks are more for tradition than replenishment.
At some point we evolved past apple and orange slices to prepacked, highly sugared snacks postgame. One parent brings a fun snack and before you know it, the rest are all following suit.
“It is not surprising at all that the snacks that are being offered to kids after sports activities are higher in calories and sugar than what they burn in the activity,” Greebel said.
“Parents want to reward kids and provide ‘fun’ snacks, which often equates to providing unhealthy snacks after sports events.”
Those “fun” snacks often consist of things like juices, donuts, cupcakes, chips, and other products with a lot of sugar or carbohydrates, according to Lovenheim.
“And this does not even factor in the high caloric, sugary drinks that are consumed at most games.”
The problem with those drinks, he said, is that, “Most children are not participating at a high enough physical level to warrant needing such fluid replacement.”
For the athletic activity most elementary-aged kids are engaging in, Lovenheim said water is generally a better choice.
“Obesity rates in children are higher than ever and only continue to grow,” Greebel said.
“Most kids also do not get enough physical activity. The imbalance of eating more calories than what is burned is what contributes to the growing weight problem in children.”
While parents likely have the best of intentions with those postgame snacks, Lovenheim says that snacking on too many calories after a game can undo much of the benefit gained by engaging in the activity in the first place.
“We are also teaching our youth to make bad food choices after minimal physical activity,” he explained.
“This behavior can stay with a child into adulthood. With the levels of childhood obesity already at an all-time high, we need to teach healthy habits from a young age.”
Both Greebel and Lovenheim said it’s time to ditch the sports drinks and high-sugar treats.
“What kids really need when playing sports, or after, is hydration,” Greebel said. “That means water. It’s also why, as children, most of our parents brought orange slices as a snack. These provide hydration and nutrition.”
Greebel said you can spice up the game water by bringing it in a cooler and flavoring it with strawberries, limes, orange slices, or any other fruit. “Or add ice cubes that have fruit frozen inside of them.”
As for the snack itself, Lovenheim suggested keeping it simple and sticking to fresh fruit snacks: cut-up oranges, apples, grapes, or watermelon wedges.
If fruit really doesn’t seem like enough, though, he said other options could include yogurt, fig cookies, or granola bars.
Of course, kids who have come to expect cookies and treats may resist this shift at first. But Lovenheim said, “If we use healthier options more consistently, then our children will come to appreciate and expect them over unhealthier options.”
And there’s an added benefit to going with fresh snacks, Greebel said. “It makes it easier on parents to bring fruit because so many kids have allergies to ingredients in packaged food products.”
Of course, you should always check with other parents to ensure even your healthy snack alternatives are safe for all kids to eat.