Healthy Eaters - Happy Athletes

Nutritious food for our active kids – it’s a dilemma many parents face every-day when faced with hectic training schedules.

No matter the sport, active kids need to be fuelled in the right way. It’s fundamental to their health and their performance and it’s our responsibility as parents to be feeding them the right things at the right time.

According to Super Healthy Kids blog; it’s important we provide our kids with energy for their training sessions and that comes from glucose and fat. Glucose is the main source of energy for activity, but the storage form of glucose runs out quickly and needs to be continually replaced. Carbohydrates are the best way to increase glycogen stores just before activity, they are easily digested and enter the bloodstream more quickly providing energy.

However studies have also shown that athletes who train while consuming higher fat diets including things like nuts, seeds, avocados etc..may increase their body’s ability to use fatty acids for energy during long periods of training. So ultimately it’s important to offer our little athletes a balanced diet to build up the storage of fat for energy as well as providing adequate protein for muscle building and repair.

It is generally believed that growing children also have slightly elevated protein needs, according to leading exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist, Asker Jeukendrup. In an article on he said: ‘Athletes who expend more energy will eat more and automatically increase their protein intake. Therefore, in the vast majority of cases there will be no need to specifically address protein intake in young athletes. This, is of course different in young athletes who are conscious of body weight and may be in negative energy balance. In that case, however, it may be important to address energy balance first, before addressing the protein intake per se. Although in some cases there are clear links to better performance it is important to be aware that there are also risks of energy deficiency, micronutrient deficiencies, menstrual irregularity, poor bone health and eating disorders.’

Avoiding fatty foods before training is a top tip from childhood nutrition expert, Jill Castle. She said: ‘Fatty foods slow digestion, which is not ideal for an athlete. Greasy, fried foods and fatty desserts are filling and may leave your athlete feeling tired and sluggish. Skip the fries and pizza before practice and keep the fat content on the light side.’

Jill also reminds us that the timing of when we feed our kids is important. She said: “Your body needs two to three hours to digest a regular meal such as breakfast or lunch before an athletic event, while a small snack such as a granola bar can be eaten 30 minutes to an hour in advance. Load up on meals but don’t overeat and keep snacks light as you get closer to game time.”

Of course, it’s important to start installing healthy eating habits in our young athletes from a young age. Helping them understand that if they put the right fuel in their body then they are going to get the best results. If they understand the why then they are more likely to make better choices.

With busy demanding lives, sometimes we run dry on inspiration for what to feed our budding athletes, so here’s a few ideas from parents and nutritionists alike to help you along the way.  

  • Nuala Davis says: “Alpro long life soya milkshakes in cartons, which are a good source of calcium and great for on the go. Also adding lots of spinach and kale to stir frys and saving in small portions for eating when you are in a hurry.
  • Diana Brociner-Allen recommends smoothies. She says: “I make mine with full fat milk, banana, frozen raspberries, a scoop of ice cream and a spoon of drinking chocolate or coco.”
  • Lynette Sharp says: “My daughter eats four of her meals a week in the car. I bought a good flask which is brilliant. I put everything in it from soup to mince and tatties.”
  • Cheer Mum Fay has some great ideas for snacks. She says: “We do smoothies with yogurt and ice all the time. Cheese and crackers is another good option and veggie sticks work too.”
  • Super Healthy Kids blog have some brilliant recipes for kids on the go including this yummy one for Peanut Butter Banana Bars.
  • And a personal favourite at SSB HQ are these delicious, cookie dough balls which make a great snack for the whole family.

We’d love to know your top tips for feeding your active kids, so get involved and post in the comments.

Thanks for reading.