It’s wonderful to welcome back registered dietitian Laura Clark for this month’s useful guest post on how best to fuel those mini athletes of ours. Laura is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to healthy food choices and how to optimise the health of our kids.
Over to Laura.
World cup fever has well and truly hit the UK and whilst ‘Daddy’s team’ are still in it everyone has a smile on their face. This tournament isn’t doing much for our marital communication but hopefully it is inspiring lots of little athletes to train and improve and maybe take to the big stage one day themselves too.
Feeding and fuelling active children can be an exhausting process. I’ve talked before about positioning of fruit bowls and healthy snacks to encourage children to consume their 5 a day, but I have some parents telling me they hide ALL the snacks otherwise they would be eaten out of house and home!
Foods and fluids consumed are set to have a big impact on a child’s ability to play well and recover appropriately and with so much confusion already in the adult world over the right proportions of food groups to consume, applying this to our offspring can be hard. Here is my guide:
Children have high energy needs for rapid growth and development and if they are more active with clubs and sports outside of school then these energy needs will be higher still.It is important that the main bulk of our children’s energy needs come from nutritious carbs but we should not fear sugar as a fuel when required.
Sources of nutritious carbs include oats, oatcakes, potato, pasta and rice and other grains, pulses and lentils, yoghurt, milk and fruit.
Carbohydrate can also be obtained from foods and drinks classified as containing ‘free sugars’ – this means the sugar has either been released from the cell walls during processing or may have been added by the manufacturer. The food is therefore likely to be less nutritious although there are some exceptions to this.
Fruit juice, for example contributes to vitamin C intake and children who drink fruit juice have been shown to eat more fruit and veg generally and have higher vitamin and mineral intakes.
The startling reality is that we can see many children are not as active as they need to be with crisps, confectionery and sugar sweetened beverages making up around a quarter of their diets.
There are correlations seen between free sugar intake and weight gain in children, hence the reduction guidance to help support optimal health and a healthy weight.
However, for more active children, some free sugars will be needed to support their higher energy needs and can be helpful to get fuel in, in a denser form, for example jelly babies, jaffa cakes and yoghurt-coated cereal bars. With good dental hygiene these will not be damaging to health.
Although protein needs are higher for really active children, it is all relative to body weight, so protein needs can be easily met with an even spread of protein across the day coming from normal foods and drinks. For most, additional protein in the form of powders and supplements is not necessary.
The body will make better use of protein if it is spaced out so try to include sources at breakfast and in snacks (ideas below) rather than just at lunch and dinner. For an active child, the focus should still be on carbs for energy and not excessive protein. Protein will always be broken down and utilised for fuel in the absence of enough carbs and will not support growth if this is the case.
Caffeinated energy drinks are not recommended for children. In most cases, it would also be unnecessary for them to consume sports drinks. The caveat to this would be if they’re taking part in anall-day tournament or multiple games where refuelling between matches is harder to do. Sports drinks provide a quick energy source, readily absorbed into active muscles, but in these cases rinsing with water would also be advisable. For standard training and matches, water is completely adequate.
Ensuring kids drink enough water can be hard. Every morning we go through the charade of filling the water bottle and most days it will come back almost full.
Children attending after-school clubs etc for sport will have higher fluid requirements and children aren’t the best at remembering to drink. Particularly in warmer weather, children can overheat and dehydrate more quickly as they don’t regulate their body temperature as well as adults. Dehydration causes tiredness and can often be the cause of lethargy in children whom are otherwise sleeping well.
It is essential drink-breaks are built into activities and that everyone is aware of its importance. If you have concerns, you should speak to the coaches and teachers.
Finally, here are some snack ideas to fuel the next generation. Those marked with a * are also good protein-providers too:
Wholemeal English muffins with jam, honey or marmite
Dried fruit served with a cheese portion* and water (to protect teeth).
Peanut butter sandwich*
Cereal and milk (at any time of day) *
Custard/ rice pudding/ yoghurt*
Fruit, seed and nut bars*
Fruit and grain cereal bars
Canned spaghetti or beans*
Trial mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, popcorn, pretzels or dry cereal*
Pancakes and brioche
Smoothie with milk and fruit like blueberries*
Corn or rice crackers with cream cheese or nut butter*