Kids, food and sport….how do you manage

Whether it is summer or winter there is are always sporting competitions going on for our kinds. Some are very serious about their sport and others are participating for other reasons, like social engagement and fun. Regardless of why they participate in sport it is important that they feed themselves enough 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 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 carbohydrate rich food like a wholegrain cereal, fruit, milk, yoghurt or bread),
  • a protein rich food food (like milk, yoghurt, cheese, nuts, legumes, tofu, lean meat/chicken/fish or eggs), and
  • some sort of plant option (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 food 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.

Recess and after school may be more energy and protein – and 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 often gets raided, where more packaged and less satisfying foods may be consumed. The options for satisfying snacks 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 fruit, cereal and milk.

Fluid intake is something else to consider with. Drinking enough fluid over the day can often be overlooked when they are in class and busy at lunch or recess playing.  Drinking some water with each meal and snack consumed 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 be absorbed much quicker than solid foods. Testing the most comfortable timing and food 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 kids ensure that they are a combination of protein and carbohydrate. Milk based drinks are a great choice for younger kids if they can be kept cold. It this is not an option you can look to long life options (tetra boxes) – ensure that the products contain no extras like caffeine, creatine…etc. Junior athletes should not be using anything other than food.

Take note of the foods that are most comfortable and make them feel the best before and during training and use those on competition days. This also helps with confidence on competition days that the foods chosen will “stay down” and make them feel good.

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

Consult with Our Accredited Sports Dietitian, Rebecca Hay

For a tailored approach, especially when dealing with more complex nutritional needs and demanding training routines, consider scheduling a consultation with our expert Accredited Sports Dietitian, Rebecca Hay. Her expertise can provide personalized guidance to ensure your young athlete’s nutritional choices align with their sporting goals.