Eat to compete

Simon Fry offers some sound advice on how to feel tip-top with ten top tips for healthy sports nutrition and hydration

1) Give extra, get extra
All children need calories to fuel the healthy development of their bodies and brains. Children doing a lot of sport, however, need to fuel their basic growth and development as well as their sport. In fact, children training for as little as an hour a day need around 500 extra calories.

2) Go Slow
While the odd doughnut or packet of crisps won’t do much harm, processed and salty foods as part of the everyday diet can become addictive and won’t encourage long-term health and wellbeing. These foods are packed with quick-release carbohydrates, energy which is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, causing a spike in energy followed by a dramatic slump. Of course, once the slump occurs, the child will grab more convenience food and the spiral continues. Slow-release carbohydrates, however, made from fresh, natural ingredients, such as oats, wholegrains, most fruit and vegetables are generally more nutritionally balanced and will sustain energy levels for longer. They’ll also promote muscle growth and boost the mood.

3) Go Bananas!
This banana recovery shake – enough for one large glass – has the ideal carbohydrate / protein ratio to kick-start the recovery process; carbohydrate to replenish glycogen levels, protein to repair muscle cells. Quickly and easily digested, it is light on the stomach, virtually fat-free and packed with vitamin C and B6 and essential minerals like potassium and calcium to replace lost body salts. Put an egg white, 200ml of skimmed milk, a roughly-chopped banana (the riper the better), two ice cubes (or a tablespoon of crushed ice), one teaspoon of honey and an optional squeeze of lime or three teaspoons of drinking chocolate into a blender and blend at full speed until smooth. Pour into a chilled glass and drink – and recover!

4) Take it easy
While budding sports stars may be very keen to train as much as possible, adequate rehydration, refuelling and rest is absolutely crucial. It is when the body is resting that the muscles heal, regain strength, adapt and grow. Children should be encouraged to eat well, drink plenty and rest after both intense training and competition.

5) Mind your pees…
Children have inadequate thirst mechanisms, often forgetting to drink and easily becoming dehydrated. Ensure they drink before, during and after exercise to keep their hydration levels topped up – water is normally sufficient. As children start sweating during exercise, the core body temperature increases. This causes a decrease in blood volume which is necessary for carrying blood to the heart. There is consequently less oxygen-rich blood available to fuel the working muscles. Performance, concentration and co-ordination can deteriorate with even mild dehydration. Budding sports stars can monitor their own hydration by checking whether their urine is a pale straw colour. If it is dark they will need to drink some more – a “pee chart” can be printed off from the internet.

6) Read all about it
The above tips are from Kate Percy, author of Go Faster Food for Kids which gives top sports nutrition advice for active children and puts it into practice with delicious, fuss-free recipes. The essential tool kit to unlock your child’s potential, it is available from, all good bookstores, or you can get signed copies from If you would like to contact Kate about her schools programme linking healthy eating with sports and academic performance, please email, or go to or twitter @gofasterfood.

7) Hunger Games
Energised Performance founder, coach, athlete, presenter, charity adventurer (£34K raised) and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution ambassador for Bristol Kim Ingleby said: “Getting children to eat healthy foods is all about helping them understand what each food group actually does, why your body needs it and that it’s okay to eat lots of healthy food, as it will give you good energy, positive thoughts, help sleep, confidence and calm nerves. For breakfast, almond flakes, sunflower seeds, oats or quinoa mixed with berries, cinnamon and coconut milk makes a great porridge while one of my 13 year-old clients loves poached egg on oatcakes with asparagus. Know that foods will affect children differently at different ages; going through puberty they may need more of the good stuff to avoid sugar cravings, hormones will affect performance, energy and hunger.” Web:

8) Visualise Role Models
Some of the most accessible, and purportedly healthy foods aren’t always the best, says Kim. “It is important to realise sugars, white foods and diet foods usually make you feel low in energy, mood and focus, affect your sleep and can affect your confidence. Having clear role models in your mind of people who represent healthy, confident, strong images is best when you are thinking about what to eat. I advise getting kids involved, making food fun, interesting and energising and empowering them to learn, understand and make the right choices.” Web:

9) The right stuff at the right time
Protein is important for the development of muscles in response to exercise training, but contrary to popular belief, eating loads of it is not necessary for most sports activities, says Dr Juliet Gray, company nutritionist, Harrison Catering Services Ltd. “Eating a good mixed diet should provide all the necessary protein. Eating the right kind of protein in the first few hours after exercise has been shown to boost muscle recovery. High quality protein, especially from milk and other dairy foods such as yoghurt and cheese, or eggs, will provide the best mix of amino acids, the building blocks required for new muscle tissue.” Web:

10) Fuels Paradise
Dr Gray has more advice on carbohydrate, the most important fuel for exercise. “The body requires a regular supply for sports activities, and although we have some stores of carbohydrate in the liver and muscles (in the form of glycogen,) these are relatively small and depleted quite quickly during exercise. Inadequate carbohydrate stores contribute to fatigue during exercise. The best way to keep them topped up is to regularly eat food containing starches such as pasta, potatoes, rice, pulses and breakfast cereals.” Web:


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