What kids should eat on sports days

Get young athletes fuelled up so they can give it their best shot. Here's a delicious day plan

The first step in preparing children for event day is getting them to eat a balance of good foods every day, which stocks up their muscles for optimal performance. The next step is ensuring kids have healthy options before, during and after their sporting activity.

The night before a sporting event

This meal is a great opportunity to make sure the body is stocked with carbohydrates, so it can do its best for as long as possible. A carbohydrate based meal that includes protein and vegetables is ideal.

Try one of the following examples:

  • Spaghetti bolognese with grated carrot, zucchini and spinach in the sauce
  • Fried rice (or quinoa/couscous) with chicken, egg, peas, corn and carrot
  • A roast dinner with potato, pumpkin/sweet potato and some broccoli
  • Chicken/beef stir fry with noodles and vegetables
  • Ham, cheese, mushroom and capsicum pizza

Finish it off with a light, dairy-based dessert like fruit and yoghurt, rice pudding, or custard.

The morning of the event

A good breakfast will help kids perform at maximum capacity for a longer period.

If you have an early start, and breakfast is 1-2 hours before the event, a light snack is the best choice. Lower fat and protein are more likely to be digested quickly. Try a cereal/muesli bar, some fresh fruit, a banana or honey sandwich, and/or a low fat yoghurt or smoothie/flavoured milk.

If you have 2-4 hours before an event, a meal that includes some carbohydrate and protein, and is low in fat, is a good option. Two great choices are:

  • Breakfast cereal/muesli/oats with milk and fruit
  • Toast and baked beans/cheese/ham/eggs with glass of milk

During the event

For shorter events

If the game or event runs for 60 minutes or less, the only nutrient that needs topping up is water. Consuming fluids regularly is essential to help kids regulate their body temperature and prevent dehydration which impairs performance. While water is the best choice, on hot or very long days, allowing flavoured drinks such as sports drink/cordial/juice can help kids drink enough.

For longer events

If the event duration is greater than 60 minutes and energy levels start to fade, kids may need to top up carbohydrate stores. In addition to water, sport drinks or jelly lollies provide quickly absorbed carbohydrates to keep them going,

For multiple events

When a number of events or games are played on the same day kids will need to refuel.

If there’s a short break (1-2 hours) between events, children should have fluids and a light snack (similar to light breakfast options). If there’s a break longer than 2 hours between events, a more substantial carbohydrate based snack can help them recharge.

Try:

  • A bread roll/sandwich/wrap/pita/wholegrain crackers with peanut butter, cheese or meat filling (keep meat filling cool for food safety reasons)
  • Tinned spaghetti or baked beans
  • A berry/banana or savoury muffin

Post-event recovery food

It’s normal for kids to be tired and grumpy after a long, active day, so be prepared with some protein and carbohydrate combinations to refuel energy and help recovery. A low fat flavoured milk is an ideal muscle recovery drink, and trail mix with dried fruit and nuts is both protein and carbohydrate rich.

Some substantial snacks can bridge the gap if you’ve got a long trip home. Once you’re home, a meal with protein, carbohydrate, and vegetables (see pre-event meal ideas) will help muscle recovery.

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