Sports come in all shapes and sizes, and school pupils are expected to compete in a wide range of stamina sports. This autumn term, the particular focus will be on rugby, hockey and cross country – all sports requiring some careful planning when it comes to nutritional intake.
Sports like these use up large amounts of energy and put the body under a degree of oxidative stress, which is the main cause of tissue degeneration. Energy is of course key to successful exercise – but a whole range of other nutrients are also needed to keep the body going, and to protect it from stress and injury.
In today’s snack-fuelled, on-the-go diet, we often don’t eat until we are hungry – which is more likely to induce cravings for high-sugar, calorific and fatty, instant-energy foods. The traditional system of three good meals is the ideal way to stabilise metabolism, as it keeps resources up rather than dealing with an unhealthy energy slump – but this is becoming less and less the norm. For example, a recent survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation as part of Healthy Eating Week 2015 showed that 24 per cent of secondary school children do not have breakfast, despite having a full understanding of its importance.
For optimum energy and performance, the perfect sports diet starts with regular intakes of foods that provide the nutrients your body needs to maintain and restore energy, and to rebuild and repair muscle and bone. Nature knows that we need to be active: so there is an abundance of stress-reducing, energy-giving nutrients in our most basic foods.
Found mainly in plant-based foods such as seeds and vegetables, antioxidants do exactly what they say on the tin: they dispose of oxidants generated by stress. Elsewhere, protein from the likes of meat, fish, pulses and eggs provides the building blocks of life, while essential fatty acids such as omega 3 also provide structure to tissue, as well as managing inflammation.
The perfect sports nutrition regime should be integral to your training. Success here, as elsewhere in sport, is all in the preparation. You are not going to succeed if you rely on last-minute quick fixes – those processed, refined energy boosters – just before, during or after sport. Stimulants such as refined sugar, fat, salt and caffeine may initially give you a high, but repeated shots of ‘empty-calorie’ energy without the back-up of a nutritionally dense diet can easily wear you out over time.
That’s why Holroyd Howe schools provide a varied menu including high-energy dishes on a day-to-day basis, so that pupils can cope with their demanding sporting schedules no matter what.
After all, it’s not just about winning one race – but completing a successful season on a high
Ronan Harte is Managing Director of independent school caterers Holroyd Howe.