Kids, food and sport….how do you manage?

Sport for kids goes all year round. Some kids are very serious about their sport and some do it solely for fun. Regardless of why they participate in sport it is important that they feed themselves the best foods during the week while training and on the days they are competing.

What do you feed them day-to-day?

You really need to start with their day-to-day eating in order to get it right around activity. Three good meals and 2-3 snacks in a day may be necessary. Kids are great at judging if they are full or not but this can easily get out of control if they come home hungry and their appetite is telling them to catch up from an unsatisfactory day of eating. Keep choices simple, fresh and as unpackaged/unprocessed as practical.

So lets start with breakfast. There is no reason that breakfast should not be consumed before school during the week or before sport on the weekend – no matter what the start time is. If breakfast is before sport enough time needs to be left so that the meal can be digested before their sport begins. The time this takes will vary between individuals and will depend on the food choices, the amount of food consumed and individual comfort. More on what to eat around training a little later.

Breakfast should include:

  • an energy food (a wholesome carbohydrate choice like a wholegrain cereal, whole fruit, milk, yoghurt or wholegrain bread),
  • a protein based food (like milk, yoghurt, cheese, nuts, lean meat/chicken/fish or eggs), and
  • some sort of plant based food (like a fruit, salad or vegetable).

The foods chosen may be different to those listed above based on the taste, culture or philosophy but each of those groups should be represented. Some foods double up with major nutrients like milk, yoghurt and fruit, so there is room to be flexible with kids who are more particular about their choices.

Lunch and dinner follow the same rules with the 3 different groups represented. Each of the groups should be equally represented in the lunch box or on the dinner plate. So 1/3 of what you see at lunch should be energy or carbohydrate based food, 1/3 should be a protein-based food and 1/3 should be a plant-based food.

Recess and after school may require more energy and protein – but fruit can fit in here nicely as an energy food. Keep these choices as fresh and simple as possible. After school is the time of day where the pantry gets raided and more packaged, less satisfying and less nourishing foods tend to be consumed. The options are endless – but making sure the foods are easy to access and make is vital.

Examples for snacks; cheese or peanut butter sandwich, ham and cheese toastie, crackers and cheese, nuts and fruit, milk and fruit, yoghurt and fresh fruit.

One other point of discussion is making sure enough fluid is consumed over the day and before training – drinking some water with each meal and snack can help to ensure that dehydration is not an issue during the day. Small sips of water during and after training will look after the majority of fluid losses from sweat during a training session.

What to eat around training and competition

With most kids sports it is the meal eaten before training or competing that has the most significant impact on their performance.

Typically a full meal can be consumed comfortably 2-3 hours prior to activity beginning. If training sessions are very early in the morning (like swimming or rowing), something more liquid may be chosen as it will leave the gut much quicker than solid foods. Testing the most comfortable timing and choices can be done in the off-season or before weekday training sessions. Never on important competition or match days.
If looking at liquid options for children ensure that they are a combination of protein and carbohydrate. Milk based drinks are a great choice if they can be kept cold. It this is not an option you can look to powdered options that are preferably natural or organic – ensure that the products contain no extras like caffeine, creatine…etc. Junior athletes should not be using anything other than whole foods.

Sports foods, such as the Pure Edge products, are another suitable option for older adolescent athletes who struggle to eat before and after a hard training session or after competition.

It is a good idea that parents and kids keep some notes on the foods that they consume that are most comfortable and make them feel the best before and during training. This will allow for confidence on competition days that the foods chosen will “stay down” and will give variety in choices made.

Nerves also have an impact on how the appetite and stomach behaves – so testing different choices is a must.

For more specific information for more challenging training routines consult an Accredited Sports Dietitian. They can work out a routine that fits with the family, the individual and the training/competition routine.

Rebecca Hay – Athletes Kitchen