I don’t know about you, but my schedule is currently dominated by kids sports. My 11-year-old daughter has a serious passion for swimming that has her dragging me out of bed at 4.30am – yes it is early, but she’s committed, so I can’t help but oblige! So I thought I’d share the importance of refuelling and rehydrating active kids who have a busy sports schedule like my two. I’ve also had lots of requests about feeding sporty kids pre and post training so here it goes.
The biology of feeding sporty kids
First a little basic anatomy. Muscle uses glycogen (stored carbohydrate) for energy. So refilling muscle glycogen stores before and after exercise with easily digestible unrefined, complex carbohydrates is really important for growing bodies to be able to recover and rehydrate. A complete protein is also important for rebuilding and repairing muscle tissue. Glycogen attracts water and recovering muscle is three times as hungry for water as it is for glucose, so adequate hydration is really critical too.
When choosing what kids should eat before and after exercise, a little protein and a good amount of unrefined, complex carbohydrate-rich foods with a high water content will accelerate the refuelling/rehydrating process. Carbohydrates are best derived from plant sources; including fruits, vegetables, starchy root vegetables and legumes. They are an essential addition to any active kids diet because not only do they provide energy for endurance and strength, but water, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. The presence of these non-caloric nutrients also affects the speed at which they are digested and absorbed, resulting in a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream (which is why they are generally recommended as providing a sustained form of energy). Refined carbohydrate, processed foods and high sugar sports and energy drinks do not have the same benefits and will NOT benefit your child’s body the way plant-based carbohydrate will.
Great snacks for sporty kids
1. Fruit smoothies made with fresh fruit (we love banana and berries), coconut water (great for extra hydration), natural, unsweetened yoghurt, nuts or seeds and I often throw in a vegetable or two (more on hiding veggies in smoothies here). I also find a whole foods based protein powder really handy, 180 Nutrition is my favourite brand, click here.
2. Homemade dips (hummus and pesto are my kids favourites) with veggie sticks
3. Antipasto plates – ours usually have veggie sticks, fresh fruit and some type of protein like biltong (air-dried beef), nuts and seeds or a boiled egg
6. A vegetable-based soup or leftover dinner is another popular pre-training snack for my kids (usually before afternoon training). When I make soup I always make extra to freeze in recycled jars for quick, easy snacks. I have loads of healthy soup recipes here.
It’s so important that kids love their sport and that they feel energised and strong during and after training and competitions. The food they eat very much impacts on both their performance and enjoyment so I believe it’s worth going the extra mile to make sure it is the very best thing for their growing bodies.
In a nut-shell:
- Fruits and vegetables are particularly good sources of both simple and complex carbohydrates, and provide ample glucose to fuel sporty kids bodies because they:
-have a high water content, to aid in building glycogen (muscle energy) stores
-provide bioavailable antioxidants, to help clear free radicals formed during aerobic exercise
-as well as providing essential vitamins and minerals, to aid in building protein and providing energy
2. Protein rich foods are essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle, especially in growing kids.
3. Refined carbohydrate, sugary foods, up-and-go, sports drinks, lollies and snow cones DO NOT improve your child’s energy, sports performance or long-term health and wellbeing (in fact quite the opposite).