Be good to yourself

Brookwood Partnership's Sue Parfett and Amanda Ursell talk sports nutrition in school catering

Managing Partner of The Brookwood Partnership – a specialist independent schools caterer – Sue Parfett, discusses school catering with the company’s consultant nutritionist, Amanda Ursell.

Sue Parfett: How important is it for young people to take sports nutrition seriously? 

Amanda Ursell: It’s very important, especially young children who want to perform at their best. Consuming the right food and drink, in the right amount, at the right time, will help keep them fit, healthy and energetic for their chosen sport. Maintaining energy throughout can make all the difference in winning or losing. But being physically fit enough to take part in and benefit from their training is only one aspect… it can also benefit performance in the classroom.

SP: So what are the dietary considerations for sporty children?

AU: A diet can be honed for the type of sport, but generally before training or competing, children need to be ‘fully fuelled’. By that I mean, eaten some carbohydrate-based foods two–four hours prior. This will help top up muscle and liver stores of glycogen, which is broken down to glucose and in turn fuels muscles during exercise. A gap of more than four hours is likely to leave someone feeling hungry but also lacking in energy and less able to focus on the training, competition or match. However, eating too close to training can be uncomfortable and the body diverts blood to the stomach and away from exercising muscles.

SP: We find sports are often played on Wednesdays after lunch or Saturday mornings. What if school and family mealtimes just don’t allow this gap? 

AU: If mealtimes simply don’t fit into this ideal scenario then a snack like a banana sandwich, dried fruit, or a cereal bar half an hour before exercise works well.

SP: What kind of meal is ideal?

AU: A meal containing pasta, rice, potatoes, quinoa, pitta, tortilla wraps, oats or bread rolls will provide a great source of energy. Protein from tuna, chicken, lean red meat, eggs, pulses or tofu is also important to support continuing growth and development as well as repair of body tissues. Scrambled eggs on toast, porridge with milk, baked potato with baked beans, a tuna wrap, chicken pitta pocket, tofu and noodles, chickpeas and rice all give these combinations. 

SP: We are often asked to provide drinks during activities. What drinks should be provided during training or the actual competition elements? 

AU: Drinks of water within the first 30 minutes and at regular times after this is important. Around half a litre per hour is a good guide, with more when it is a hot or if exercise is very high energy. 

SP: Do children and teenagers need sports drinks? 

AU: If fitness sessions and matches are less than an hour then water is absolutely fine. When over an hour, a diluted fruit juice, squash or isotonic sports drink can help to keep performance levels up. 

SP: And how about after training? What should post-exercise and school sports teas look like? 

AU: After training or a match, young people need carbohydrates to refuel as well as protein to repair muscles and support their continuing growth. Skimmed milk smoothies made with banana or some fruit and yoghurt are great options right after sports as they have the four-to-one ratio of carbohydrate to protein. A cereal bar and semi-skimmed milk, a cheese or egg sandwich or two handfuls of dried fruit would also make great options. 

SP: And what about their next main meal? 

AU: A good post-sports’ meal would be pasta with a lean meat sauce, baked sweet potato with grilled fish like salmon and broccoli, vegetarian chilli with brown rice. These give great sources of carbs and protein to optimally re-fuel hungry, sporty young people to help keep them feeling great and ready for their next sporting challenge.