Fueling children with a healthy and balanced everyday diet differs from fueling for sport. Whether you have a great understanding of sports nutrition or are completely confused as to what foods they should be eating – it is always good to have a refresher.
Food for sport differs from everyday nutrition in a number of ways. Key components which change are the type, timing and quantity of food. Hydration also plays an extremely important role, particularly for endurance sports and summer sports where fluid losses are higher.
Having a pre-training snack/light meal is really important. Think of our bodies like cars – you need to put enough good quality petrol in so the car can run at its best. It is particularly important for very long training sessions (1.5-2 hours) and afternoon sessions after school.
The pre-game snack should ideally be:
- Consumed 1-2 hours before training starts
- High in Carbohydrates (e.g bread, pasta, cereal, fruit)
- Low in fat (fat takes a long time to digest, and if eaten too close to training/games it can cause stomach discomfort).
It is all well and good to say eat something high in carbohydrate and low in fat, but it is more useful to think of food in the context of actual food (not just nutrients). Some great pre-training snacks include:
- A piece of fruit and a muesli bar
- Fruit smoothie on low-fat milk
- Muesli or cereal with low-fat milk/yoghurt
- Low-fat yoghurt and fruit
- Rice cakes or ryvitas with cottage cheese and tomato, or banana and honey
- Toasted sandwich
What about before a game? This differs slightly, so let’s take a look!
The pre-game meal is similar to the pre-training snack in the sense that it should be high in carbohydrate and low in fat. It is also good to include a bit of protein (e.g lean meat/fish, dairy) to stop your child getting hungry during a game.
The key difference for the pre-game meal is it should ideally be eaten 2-4 hours before a game. Your child may then also like a top-up snack (like mentioned above) 1-1.5 hours before. Good pre-game meal options include:
- Meat and salad sandwich/bread roll or wrap
- Stir-fry with white rice or noodles
- Pasta with a tomato sauce (avoid rich creamy sauces due to high-fat content)
- Some lean meat with potato and a bit of salad
- Bagel with a bit of cream cheese and smoked salmon/ham
Great, so pre-training and pre-game meals are sorted – but what about fluid?
Hydration for training and game day
Adequate fluid replacement is essential in sport, particularly for young kids with smaller body surface areas. Ideally, you want your children to begin training/game well-hydrated and then top up during. A good rule of thumb for during training/games is 150ml every 15minutes of exercise (so approximately 600ml every hour of exercise). The most simple way to tell if your child is hydrated is by getting them to test the colour of their urine. Clear-pale yellow = hydrated and should continue to top up fluids as normal. Medium-dark yellow indicates dehydration and they should have a big drink before starting exercise.
What is the best fluid for my children to have?
- Water – water will usually be the first priority for hydration.
- Milk – milk is great for rehydration, so is good to include after or 1-2 hours before training/game (not during).
Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade may be beneficial for very long games (1.5-2 hours), tournaments, and very hot days. This is because they contain carbohydrates (useful for refuelling of long games/tournaments) and electrolytes (beneficial for rehydration). For regular training days and games of about 1 hour, these are usually not necessary.
The recovery meal is important as it will help replenish energy stores and aid the recovery process. Ideally, the recovery meal should be:
- Consumed within 30-60 minutes of finishing training/a game
- High in carbohydrates (refuel), protein (repair) and fluid (rehydrate)
Some great recovery meal options include:
- Home-made burgers with salad
- Meat and vegetable stir-fry or pasta dish
- Chicken and salad wrap or home-made burritos
- Sandwich or bread roll with meat, salad and/or cheese
- Home-made pita pizzas with lean meat and veggies
- Roast meat with baked potato/sweet potato and veggies
If the post-game/training meal is a while after training (e.g if training finishes at 5pm and dinner isn’t until 7pm) then try to carry a nutritious snack with you for your child to have after finishing. This way it isn’t a big deal if the meal isn’t for a couple of hours.
By Amanda Gaukroger
Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)
Health and Performance Collective (HPC)
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