My son has just arrived home from a week long absence as he played a huge soccer tournament in Cebu. He is often travelling to play the sport he loves, competing in the biggest junior events of the Philippines, like Thirsty Cup (this trip), Ceres Cup in Bacolod, Palarong Pambansa in Vigan, and Pilipinas Cup in Clark…not to mention many cities he goes to in-between those big ones.
Sadly, he got sick during the trip and played all his matches with a fever. In fact, the on-site medic did not allow him to play the last match, where his team lost to the eventual champions in a tense and heartbreaking quarterfinal match.
While I could blame many factors for his sudden sickness, like the city’s dirt, the multiple-hour video game binge he had with a cousin the day before the matches started, the heat, and so on; I cannot ignore that we forgot to pack some things for his performance and health, things that he badly needed.
This unfortunate turn of events made me reflect: what are the travelling essentials needed for my son’s optimum performance? Soccer is an intense sport often played under intense heat, and so every trip has to be planned carefully so that he’s peaked and ready to win.
Of course, perfect planning doesn’t always happen (like this trip), even after years of travelling the circuit; but what does it look like when you nail it? Here’s what I think should be packed to optimally fuel your favorite athlete. Ready? Let’s go!
Hydration: Make own sports drink. Save money.
Sports drinks are expensive, and re-hydrating your thirsty athlete on a tournament day could drain hundreds off your wallet just for the drinks alone. Furthermore, they’re not all that good for you, as studies have shown. So, the smart, frugal-minded parent will forget about them and go DIY.
Just putting a little salt (rock salt, sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt…NOT table salt) in your athlete’s water already goes a long way towards replacing much needed electrolytes, especially sodium, which is greatly lost through sweat. Put about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt per liter of water, and this is just step one.
Step two is to make your own sports drink. I already covered this extensively in a previous article, which I invite you to visit. I cover two recipes for a DIY sports drink that ends up being a fraction of the cost of the commercial stuff yet much more nutritious.
What to bring (using recipe 2): two sports jugs (one for the water/salt mixture, the other for the DIY sports drink), 500ml bottle of calamansi juice concentrate, small bottle of salt, organic cucumber. Make the sports drink every night before game day. Hotels and tournament venues should have water readily available in case you need to prepare/refill.
Note: if the sports gods smile at the event and a buko juice (coconut water) seller is on site, then feel free to get some of this awesome drink too, if ever your kiddo starts complaining of drinking the same old stuff over and over again. Seriously, these buko juice sellers should be at every tournament.
Snacks: go bananas over bananas
Growing up a tennis player, I’ve been taught that bananas were the holy grail of sportsman snacks, and for good reason: they’re cheap, quickly digestible, and very nutritious (especially high in potassium, which taxed muscles truly need),
Today, our love for the yellow fruit continues, especially on road-trip tournaments because they’re tough to carry on planes, obviously. It’s especially great for festival type tournaments where there are several matches per day and you are never sure how much time there is in-between them. In situations like these, bananas fit the bill perfectly.
Of all the varieties of bananas available, the best are the saba and cardaba varieties. Most people boil these before eating or fry them as chips or fritters; but to get the full health benefits of these fruits, you have to eat them ripe and raw. Not only are these varieties cheaper than the more familiar kinds, more often than not they are from organic sources, and they’re also more nutritious (a friend has said they have 10x more potassium than their more well-known brethren, but I have to yet to verify that).
Other great snacks include hard-boiled pasture-raised eggs, nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts; not peanuts), and other fruits both fresh and dried. Just no junk food, please. Will you put junk fuel into a Ferarri? No, you will not.
What you bring: do what you can to have a bunch of saba or cardaba bananas with you at the venue. This is easy if a road trip, but you will be forced to do a little searching and shopping if otherwise; and make sure you bring/buy extra to offer your kiddo’s teammates. Dried fruits and nuts can be combined trail-mix style and placed into your (or better yet, your athlete’s) bag.
I encourage my son to take a few bites as soon as he finishes a match. The high potassium of the banana plus the high sodium of the DIY sports drink, not to mention the micro-nutrients that both offer, ensures that he recovers well and keeps cramps and fatigue at bay.
Energy boosters – The sweet truth about Raw Wild Honey and Dark Chocolate
Both honey and chocolate can be powerful performance boosters for your little athlete, and they cost so much less than much of the stuff out there.
Many of today’s athletes use sports gels for that quick carb energy push, but raw wild honey can do the job just as well and in some cases even better, plus with far less cost. Its unrefined carbohydrates are very quickly absorbed, it’s delicious, and you support local Filipino farmers. It’s no surprise that ancient athletes and hunters have used honey for a quick pick-me-up, and we should go back to that too.
Dark chocolate (key word: dark) contains a type of flavanol called epicatechin, which helps the body require less oxygen during exertion. It also contains theobromine, a stimulant similar to caffeine and therefore positively affects energy levels, mood, and concentration (I also encourage my children to eat dark chocolate before and during their school exams). Just like with honey, scientists have been pleasantly surprised that something as everyday as dark chocolate can significantly boost athletic performance, but it does.
My favorite brand is one made by a former student-turned-entrepreneur. It’s called Kakao Nibblers, and boy is it awesome. First, it’s 90% chocolate, NINETY PERCENT (most dark chocolate bars are around 70%). Second, in my experience, unlike most chocolate bars, it doesn’t tend to melt and get all gooey, so it’s perfect to take on the road.
What to bring: a travel sized bottle of raw wild honey (small and plastic, I’m scared that the big glass ones will break during travel), and at least a pack of Kakao Nibblers. A few minutes before the match starts (such as the start of the 2nd half of the match prior) have your little athlete take a teaspoonful of honey and about 2 pcs nibblers. Make sure he chews it well and washes it down with lots of water.
Nutrition and recovery: Functional foods, not lab concoctions
Are supplements important? Well, judging from this latest trip, yes, very much so…especially when travelling and eating out is the norm. My son forgetting to pack his supplements is, I think, one of the reasons for his not-so-optimal performance and therefore the motivation for this article. Rest assured, it will not happen again.
Here’s is a run-down of what he should be taking with him every time he travels. As you will see, I am much more of a fan of capsuled functional foods vs. the run of the mill vitamins.
Turmeric. Lots has been said about turmeric for people with cancer and other diseases, but turmeric has great benefits for athletes too. Other than strengthening the immune system, it is a relaxant and a strong anti-inflammatory, so it’s great supplement to take as he recovers from the day’s athletic endeavors. These benefits also mean it greatly enhances the quality of sleep, and we all know how important this is, especially for an athlete.
Greenplus. Greenplus is a supplement made of two of the most nutritious substances on earth: moringa and spirulina. Together, they make a product so nutritious that it naturally has more of the vitamins and minerals than the store-bought stuff. The benefits of both spirulina and moringa are well known and acclaimed, so go crazy on the internet. You’ll like what you see.
GoProtect. Made from oregano, sambong, lagundi, and moringa, this supplement is not to be taken everyday, but it’s a respiratory-aiding powerhouse and the most important supplement that my son takes. It’s what helped transform him from a sickly, severely asthmatic kid to one of the best and most active soccer players in Region X. I’ve also seen similar results from other asthmatic kids who tried it. So, do you hate asthma and hate the drugs too? Give this a try.
Other than being awesomely effective, these three supplements are also proudly FIlipino made, which is all the more reason to patronize them. Imagine that you feed your neighbor’s kids while your own children starve! That’s what you do whenever you buy something imported when there’s a Pinoy equivalent readily available; but,hey, that’s a topic for another article.
What to bring: each of the three products comes in easy-to-carry bottles, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem. I have my son take the Greenplus in the morning with his breakfast, especially if the breakfast isn’t of the best quality, which sometimes can’t be helped as one travels around (one of the many benefits both spirulina and moringa have is they also help athletic performance a bit). Turmeric capsules are taken at dinner time as he prepares for and recovers from the activities. GoProtect is usually only taken when he’s under the weather and/or he feels an asthma attack creeping in; but now I would like him to take it anyway as a preventive so that what happened in this latest trip will not happen again. Packaging directions say GoProtect shouldn’t be taken for more than 7 straight days; and so I schedule it that the tournament is in the middle or tail end of that period.
Looking back at what I just wrote, this seems like quite a bit of stuff; but what I listed her should save you some money (like the DIY sports drink, or honey instead of sports gels) and I’m sure you as a parent of an athlete would like to make sure your little superstar would be best equipped to handle the rigors of sports when you’re far from home.
Would you have anything to add on to or replace in this article? Let me know in the comments. While you’re at it, please check out Wellness On Wheels, which has all the stuff I mentioned here (unfortunately, the supplements are not allowed to be displayed on the page, but they’re available – just ask).