Parents often ask “What are the best food and drinks to give my child to optimise their sports performance?”. In other words, what is the proper nutrition for kids playing sport? Conversations between parents show that everyone has quite different ideas about what’s best practise for fuelling our young athletes.
However, the foods and fluids consumed by players can have a big impact on their ability to train, play and recover well. As well as helping ensure a fit, strong and healthy young child. While each child has differing nutritional needs, the guidelines below are applicable to all junior players who want to drink and eat their way to become a Sports Pro.
Before the Game
It’s vital that active children start drinking fluids well before they arrive at training or to their event. To prepare in the hours leading up to the game, children should frequently sip mouthfuls of fluids at school and home. Remind your children to take adequate water with them to school, training and games.
Fluid should be drunk with meals and snacks on training and game days, to maximise the benefits from electrolytes found in foods. This way, water is retained in the body better to promote optimal hydration. The hydration needs will differ between individual children, but generally, children should drink periodically until they are not thirsty, their urine output is regular, and light straw in colour.
During the Game
Most children can efficiently maintain their own hydration if allowed to drink according to their thirst. Remind children to bring their water bottle to games and training.
Encourage children to practise regular intake of small amounts of fluid during training so they feel more comfortable drinking during games, and remind them not to wait until they are very thirsty to drink, as they may already be starting to dehydrate and experience a decline in performance.
Keep fluids cold by storing them in a cooler bag or by freezing a bottle overnight and allowing it to thaw on a warm day. Cooler drinks encourage greater intake and help the body to stay cooler. Also, it’s a good idea to store drink bottles in a cooler bag together at training or on game days to make drink breaks easier.
Experts do not fully understand what causes a “stitch”, however current advice for avoiding them is to drink small amounts frequently and avoid sugary or carbonated beverages before events. Dehydration is also thought to be linked to experiencing stitches.
While water is the fluid of choice for most training situations, sports drinks with additional carbohydrates and electrolytes can be beneficial for extended training sessions or games. They can boost energy and performance and encourage greater fluid intake and faster absorption.
After the Game
Alongside appropriate food intake, encourage your kids to rest and take a larger drink, followed by fluid intake as desired over the hour’s post-game. Drinks with caffeine and carbonated beverages should be discouraged before, during and immediately after sport. They can cause upset stomachs or reduce the desire to drink. Bloating can also result, meaning kids feel too full before they drink a sufficient volume.
Suitable recovery fluids include water, plain and flavoured milk, liquid meal supplements and soups. Look for fluids that provide electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein.
Before the Game
The aim of breakfast on game day is to provide some carbohydrates and fluid to top up your body’s reserves and to prevent hunger before and during the game. Your junior sportsperson should be adequately hydrated from the day before, so today is all about topping up the stores in preparation for the big game.
It’s recommended that children eat around two hours prior to the match commencing. If your child gets hungry again up to one hour before starting exercise, a small low fat snack is a good option.
Aim to provide foods that are low in fat and a rich source of carbohydrates. If your child gets an upset stomach from nerves before the game, provide foods that are low in fibre.
Some great pre-game meal ideas come from www.sportsdietitians.com.au:
- Porridge (oats or quinoa) with apple and cinnamon.
- Spaghetti on toast with a fruit smoothie.
- Cereal with milk, fruit and yoghurt with a small glass of juice or piece of fresh fruit.
- Toast with avocado, tomato and cheese (or a little fetta), with a glass of milk.
- Fruit salad with yoghurt and chopped nuts.
- Scrambled egg with cheese and tomato, toast and a piece of fruit.
- Peanut butter on toast, topped with sliced banana and a glass of milk.
- Baked beans on toast with fruit and a glass of milk.
- Fruit toast or English muffins with honey or jam and a fruit smoothie.
- Pancakes with fresh fruit and yoghurt.
- Crumpets with honey and a tub of yoghurt.
- Creamed rice with stewed apples and cinnamon.
During the Game
Unfortunately, it is advisable not to rely on the canteen at the courts or the nearby shops to supply food and drinks for the day, as healthy options are not always available. Be prepared by packing your own supplies in an esky or cooler bag. Carbohydrate rich snacks help boost energy levels in young players and prevent hunger. If possible, try to encourage some food and fluids between games.
Ideas for energy boosters to consume during the game from www.sportsdietitians.com.au include:
- A snack pack of canned fruit with fruit.
- Jam or honey sandwich with a juice popper.
- Sushi hand rolls.
- Watermelon slices.
- A small box of sultanas.
- Bread roll with banana.
- Rice crackers with vegetable dip.
- Frozen yoghurt.
- Wholegrain fruit bar with a flavoured milk.
- Fruit bun with honey/jam.
- Pikelets with jam or honey plus a snack.
- Pack canned fruit.
- Flavoured milk or a liquid meal tetra Pak.
After the Game
Adequate recovery after each day’s game or training session is essential to maintain your child’s fuel stores, and allow them to perform at their best. This is even more important when kids are playing over consecutive days at a carnival or tournament. Recovery snacks and fluids should be consumed within 30-60 minutes of finishing exercise. Look for foods that are high in carbs with little protein, and are quick and easy to prepare and eat.
Some foods that www.sportsdietitians.com.au suggests for post-game recovery are:
- Yoghurt with fruit.
- Cheese sandwich or cheese on toast.
- Baked beans on toast with a glass of milk.
- Cereal with milk.
- Fruit & grain bars with a milk drink.
Also, junior sports players are often playing in cold, bleak wintry conditions and so post game recovery should include warm clothing, a warm and protected area to sit down, and something warm to eat and drink.
Winter warming recovery ideas from www.sportsdietitians.com.au include:
- Savoury jaffles with baked beans or mushrooms.
- A serve of thick soup with cheese on toast.
- Pancakes with warm apple & cinnamon.
- A small bowl of warm pasta with cheese.
- Crumpets with cheese or a little honey.
- Low fat quick cook noodles.
- Miso soup with sushi.
- A toasted cheese & tomato sandwich.
- Hot chocolate or Milo.
The information above is a guide for junior players aged 5-11.
Most of the information provided is also appropriate for older children, but you can find more specific information for adolescents at www.sportsdietitians.com.au.
So, we hope you found this information useful. At Australian Sports Camps, we’re big believers in proper sports nutrition. In fact, our 3-day school holiday sports coaching programs incorporate set breaks for rest and adequate re-hydration. Also, fruit snacks are for provided each day of our programs for optimal performance.