Wondering how best to fuel your sporty child’s body during competitions or tournaments? Here are some guidelines for the big day.
To support our growing sport stars, we need to be informed and have a better understanding of what they need nutritionally so that there are no negative side effects from competing at a high intensity from an early age.
Diet affects performance
An adequate diet in terms of quality and quantity before, during, and after training and competition will maximise performance. You need to have a good base diet and to plan for increased nutritional needs during game times
(be it training, a match, or a tournament).
Overall, both children and athletic children:
- Use more energy while walking, running, and doing other activities compared to adults.
- Need more protein intake to meet the requirements
of growth and muscle repair.
- Need more calcium for bone development, as well
as zinc and iron for growth and development.
- Have a poor sense of thirst and are more susceptible
to the detrimental effects of dehydration.
Dieting and children don’t mix
There is no need for children to go on a diet to gain or lose weight in order to meet the specifications that some sports may require and some coaches advise. Diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies and can jeopardise the normal rate of growth and development. In general, children can eat more carbohydrates around sport seasons, when they are training more frequently or intensely, and reduce the amount when they are more sedentary.
Energy for exercise
Be aware that your child needs carbohydrates for fueling muscles during high-intensity exercise, but these are only stored for a short time in the body, so need to be topped up often with suitable snacks and small meals.
Meals (3 main meals) and snacks (3-4 healthy snacks) should be focused on nutrient-dense and carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits, dairy products, grains, cereals, legumes and vegetables. When creating meals, it can help to choose foods that your child perceives as building strong muscles; a lot of cereals and breakfast foods market themselves this way. The psychological effect can play a huge role in how our children feel and perform.
Beat nervous stomachs
Sometimes kids find it very hard to stomach foods on competition day. Liquid foods can be a good option for kids who can’t eat a proper breakfast, or try simple comfort foods, such as white bread or fruit. During a tournament, it’s a good idea to provide foods that your child is familiar with and has eaten before. Let your child be the judge of the foods she feels like eating during a big sports day. There will be some foods kids feel more comfortable eating before or during sport, and that is normal.
The fluid factor
Often, children need to be reminded to drink during exercise. Dehydration can be dangerous and can affect performance, so it needs to be prevented by drinking enough fluids before, during and after exercise. When the exercise lasts longer than one hour, carbohydrates and electrolytes (salts) need to be added to their drinks for energy and as a thirst enhancer. Flavour is another important factor shown to increase voluntary drinking in children, so very diluted fruit juice might help your child drink more. Water only is absolutely fine to be drunk if the exercise lasts no longer than one hour; however, sports drinks can be an option for when the exercise is intense, lasts longer than one hour, or is performed in a hot environment. Parents should be mindful that often sports drinks are not needed. Store-bought sports drinks are high in sugar (in order to replace carbohydrate stores), and they also have electrolytes (salts) in them to replace what is sweated out. Unless your child is sweating a lot or using up all their carbohydrate stores in exercise lasting an hour or more, then food, water, or juices can be used just as effectively. Sports drinks should be viewed as a tool to rehydrate and refuel, and not an everyday drink option.
How much to drink
Pre-tournament: Two glasses of fluid up to four hours before the event; one glass of fluid up to two hours pre-event. During tournament: Half a glass to a full glass every 20 minutes if possible. Post-tournament: Meals and snacks can also provide fluids, and can often provide enough of a top-up if sufficient fluid was taken before and during exercise.
The night before
You need less fat and protein, and more carbs. For example, baked potato, rice, or pasta are good.
This is to top-up energy stores in the muscles and the liver, to keep blood sugars stable, to prevent hunger, and to hydrate. Breakfast should be eaten at least two hours before the event, with a snack (a banana would be ideal) about an hour beforehand.
- Porridge with yoghurt, berries, a sprinkling of almonds
- Toast or crumpets with favourite spread (banana, tinned spaghetti, baked beans, jam, honey)
- Bowl of fruit salad
- Bowl of cornflakes or muesli
- Glass of fruit juice
- Wholegrain sandwich (ham, chicken, egg, or tuna with salad)
- Pasta with tuna or tomato-based sauce
- Fruit (banana, apple)
- Glass of vege or fruit juice
During the tournament
Fluid, carbohydrates and protein are needed for recovery between games or throughout the competition during the day.
After the tournament
Your child needs to refuel their muscles within 30-45 minute with a snack of protein and carbs. This should be followed up with a substantial meal within two hours, and your child should drink enough water to make their urine clear!
- Homemade protein shake (milk, scoop of milk powder, scoop of wheat germ, fruit or berries)
- Pre-made meal replacements (Complan or Up-N-Go)
- Fruit (banana, apple, grapes, etc) or vege sticks (carrots, celery, cucumber, etc) with hummus
- Small tin of creamed rice
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Honey, peanut butter, or jam sandwiches
- Crackers with cheese or cottage cheese
- Muesli and nut bars
- Fruit bread
- Scroggin/trail mix (nuts, seeds, chocolate pieces, dried fruit)
- Small tins of salmon mayo or tuna mayo
What not to have:
- Chocolate bars/lollies
- Potato chips
- High-sugar drinks
- Fatty or sugary foods
Project Nutrition is an organisation that aims to promote health and well-being through good nutritional advice that is accessible and affordable for everyone. projectnutrition.co.nz