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Grocery and Convenience Stores Offer Healthy Sports Nutrition Choices

Concession stands are bad nutritional bet


Grocery and convenience stores offer better sports nutrition choices at all-day events or tournaments than the concession stand, which typically offers high-fat, high-cost foods (e.g. nacho chips, cheese fries, hot dogs). Pretzel

Most supermarkets have a soup and salad bar with a variety of healthy foods. With guidance from parents and coaches, young athletes can find healthy, high carbohydrate, low fat foods in every aisle of the store.

As a general rule, a snack that contains at least 4 grams of carbohydrate for every gram of fat is considered high in carbohydrates, and low in fat. For more information on specific foods, read the label.


Not As Healthy

Snack Aisle: Chips


Among low fat crunchy snack choices are:

  • Popcorn (air popped) (3.5 cups): 108 calories, of which 82% are from carbohydrates and only 10% from fat
  • Pretzels (1 oz.): 108 calories, 83% from carbohydrates, 10% from fat

The following chips are high in fat:

  • Potato chips (2 oz.): 306 calories, of which 38% are from carbohydrates and 58% from fat
  • Corn chips (2 oz.): 306 calories, 43% from carbohydrates, 51% from fat
  • Banana chips (1 oz.): 147 calories, 43% from carbohydrates, 58% from fat

Snack Aisle: Nuts/Seeds


Though full of nutrients, nuts and seeds are even higher in fat and calories than chips.

  • Peanuts (2 oz. roasted): 344 calories, only 15% from carbohydrates, 73% from fat
  • Almonds (2 oz.): 352 calories, 13% from carbohydrates and a whopping 83% from fat
  • Sunflower (2 oz.): 314 calories, 14% carbohydrates, 76% fat

Snack Aisle: Cookies


Cookies provide lots of calories, primarily from fat and sugar. Healthy options include:

  • Fig bars (2): 106 calories, 80% from carbohydrates, 17% from fat (a good sweet snack choice for calorie conscious athletes)
  • Fat-free cookies (Snack Wells® etc.)
  • Chocolate Chip (2): 320 calories, 55% from carbohydrates, 41% from fat
  • Oatmeal (2): 305 calories, 58% from carbohydrates, 38% from fat

Snack Aisle: Candy Bars


Candy bars are, of course, a favorite snack choice. Most are high in simple carbohydrates and low in fat.

  • Rice cake (1): 21 calories, 75% carbohydrates, 15% fat
  • Granola, fat-free: 80% carbohydrates, 16% fat
  • Breakfast, fat-free: 75% carbohydrates, 19% fat
  • York Peppermint Patty® (1.5 oz.): 180 calories, 76% carbohydrates, 20% fat
  • Milky Way®: 260 calories, 66% carbohydrates, 31% fat
  • Hard candy, jelly-beans, gummy bears, candy corn and licorice provide mainly carbohydrate calories and little or no fat.
  • Snickers®: 270 calories, 43% from carbohydrates, 49% from fat

Bread Aisle: Pastries


Most pastry items contain more fat than carbohydrates, because of the fat added in frying or in the fillings.

  • Fat free raspberry Danish: 140 calories, 94% carbohydrates, 0% fat.
  • Hostess® donut: 115 calories, 44% carbohydrates, 55% fat
  • Raspberry Danish: 220 calories, 49% carbohydrates, 49% fat

Bread Aisle: Bread

Because breads are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates and B-vitamins, they are a good choice:

  • Bagel: 81% carbohydrate, 3% fat
  • English muffin: 77% carbohydrates, 7% fat
  • Raisin bread: 67% carbohydrates, 25% fat

Cereal Aisle

Like bread, most cereals are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates and B-vitamins:

  • Raisin Bran®, Chex®, Wheaties®, Cheerios®, cornflakes

Dairy Aisle


  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit: 225 calories, 75% from carbohydrates, only 10% from fat. Yogurt is a probably the best choice in the dairy aisle. Unlike ice cream, fruit bars and popsicles, yogurt is nutrient-dense and contains calcium, protein, and B-vitamins.
  • Low fat pudding: 225 calories, 62% carbohydrates, 35% fat
  • Low-fat cheeses and low-fat or non-fat milk are other healthy dairy snacks
  • Ice cream sandwich: 167 calories, 62% carbohydrate, 33% fat
  • Popsicle or fruit juice bar: 100% carbohydrate
  • Dove Bar®: 350 calories, 43% from carbohydrates and 51% from fat.
  • Hagen Dazs® bar, low fat: 43% of calories from carbohydrates, 48% from fat

Fruits And Vegetables

Fruits And Vegetables

Fresh fruit is another healthy choice. Fruit is nearly 100% carbohydrate and supplies vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

  • Banana: 120 calories
  • Apple: 60 calories
  • Orange: 60 calories

Cold Drinks

Cold Drinks

  • Fruit juice: 180 calories, 100% of which come from carbohydrates. Note: Your child should avoid fruit drinks or juices during sports, because they are too rich in carbohydrates, they are absorbed more slowly than water or sports drinks, and can cause stomach cramps, nausea, bloating and diarrhea. For tips on ensuring that your child gets adequate fluids while playing sports, click here.
  • Sports drinks: look for ones containing 4-8% carbohydrates (about 36 to 77 calories per 8 ounces). Sports drinks, rather than fruit juices, are the best choice if the goal is rapid replacement of lost fluids, as they are better formulated to replenish bodily fluids rapidly.
  • Regular carbonated soda: 140-180 calories, 100% from carbohydrates. Note: Like fruit juices or drinks, your child should not drink carbonated soda right before, or during, sports.
  • Diet caffeinated sodas are poor rehydration beverages because they are diuretics that increase urination.


Wanted: pro-active parents

In a qualitative study by researchers at the University of Minnesota published in 2012 [1] many parents reported in focus group discussions being disatisfied with the food options available at concession stands and that the food enviroment promoted unhealthful nutrition habits.  

But many found it challenging to plan ahead to pack healthy snacks during travel team and tournament play because of busy schedules and a time crunch, which increased their perceived need for convenience food.  They also reported that nutrition messages from mass media influenced the types of food and beverages children consume in conjunction with sports, which were also affected by their own dietary habits and established eating norms at home.  Parents suggested that, because their children look up to their coaches and listen when they make suggestions about eating, it makes coaches important allies in sending positive messages about healthful food and beverages.

Parents can help create real changes in behavior by working to make healthy food and beverage choices for young athletes the easy choice.  They can lead on this issue by hitting the grocery store instead of the concession stand, by volunteering to help make more fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy beverages available at concession stands, and asking for them when they are not available.

"Parents can lead on this issue by making healthy choices available, volunteering to have more fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy beverages in concession stands, and asking for them where they are not available, says Toben F. Nelson, ScD., author of the University of Minnesota study.  "Most youth sports organizations are run by parents, so parents can take on these roles and create the change they want to see. I think there is more support out there for healthy choices than some realize."

In fact, a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Iowa, working with a booster club in Muscatine, Iowa, found that unhealthy food choices youth athletes are offered at concession stands can be gradually replaced with healthier items without a loss of revenue, profits, or customer satisfaction, suggests a first-of-its-kind pilot study. (Laroche 2014).  

Grilled chicken sandwich and apple

Researchers at the University of Iowa worked with the booster club in Muscatine, Iowa to add eight new healthy foods (apples, carrots and dip, chicken sandwiches, granola bars, pickles, soft pretzels, string cheese and trail mix) to the concession stand menu durning the 2009 fall season at Muscatine High football games, volleyball matches and swim meets.

At the same time, the booster club replaced unhealthy ingredients in certain existing food offerings, substituting canola oil for coconut oil bars in the popcorn, and swapping the cheese in the nachos, eliminating trans fat from the products.

The group advertised the new offerings in a poster and marketing campaign with the slogan, "Great taste, more variety." 


1.  Thomas M, Nelson TF, Harwood E, Neumark-Sztainer D. Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2012;44(4):365-371.

Revised July 1, 2012


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