To ensure that active kids get the most out of whatever activity they are doing, it is important that they take on board enough energy. Foods that contain carbohydrate provide us with the energy needed for sports and physical activity. However, the body can only store a small amount of carbohydrate at a time, so these stores have to be topped up regularly. Inadequate carbohydrate stores can result in fatigue, which can impact exercise performance.
I recommend that before a big training session young athletes eat a meal that is high in carbohydrate, low in fat and contains a moderate amount of protein. This could be a rice or pasta dish, a baked potato, fruit with yoghurt or something as simple as a bowl of cereal. Stick to what’s familiar and introduce changes gradually as sudden alterations may have unwanted gastrointestinal side effects such as an upset stomach.
Some children may need an additional snack before exercising or during a particularly long training session. Where possible, if you can make snacks from scratch it’s always better as you have complete control over the ingredients. This doesn’t mean spending a ridiculous amount of time in the kitchen. I often use BBC Food or BBC Good Food websites for inspiration. The main thing to beware with all snacks is their sugar content. The government recommends that no more than 5% of the energy you get from food and drink each day should come from sugar. That's a maximum 19g (5 tsp) per day for children aged 4-6 and 24g (6 tsp) per day for children aged 7 to 10 years.
Have a look at the nutritional labels on the back of snacks that you might buy from the supermarket. For example, a Nutrigrain bar has 12g sugar (3 tsp). That’s half of the recommended sugar for a child between the ages of 7 and 10. I always opt for natural snack options where possible.
My favourite natural snacks for sporty kids include fruit or fruit juice/smoothies (which are great for kids that don't like fruit). Rice cakes with low fat cheese are a good savoury option and plain popcorn is always popular. Making pasta pots ahead of time works well for the busy lives of many active families and getting the kids involved in making home made granola bars using their favourite ingredients can be a fun activity.
Rebecca Burns is a registered Dietitian and has a Masters in Sport and Exercise Nutrition. She competes in middle-distance running for Edinburgh AC. She is available for private consultations at The Physiotherapy Clinics, South Gyle, Edinburgh. You can contact Rebecca at: Burns_SportsRD@gmail.com
Watch out for more nutrition blogs in the future where we will have some fantastic recipes for active children.
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