Fuel for Sport

Miss Caitlin Anderson – Wellbeing Health Promotion Officer

A child or adolescent’s growth and development requires large amounts of energy from the diet. Exercise increases those requirements even further and can make it difficult for parents to know what to pack in the school lunch box.

Trialing different foods before, during and after exercise is invaluable when preparing for competition as it provides all athletes an insight into foods that provide the most available energy for maximizing sports performance. Similarly, it’s important to ‘practice’ all pre, during and post exercise meals and snacks during training blocks to ensure that there are no issues with digestion, particularly when paired with increased nerves on competition day, which can interfere with gastrointestinal function!

Before exercise

Carbohydrate is the most important nutrient prior to exercise. If your child is consuming a meal or snack 3-4 hours prior to exercise, it is important to minimize fat and fibre in the diet as these can slow gastric emptying which can delay the release of sugar (energy) into the blood stream. It your child is eating shortly before exercise (~1-2 hours), high GI carbohydrate-rich foods that are moderate in protein and low in fat and fibre are suitable. Some options are provided below.

What to eat 3-4 hours prior to exercise:

  • Whole meal or wholegrain sandwich with lean meat, egg, cheese or tuna and salad
  • 2 eggs (omelette or scrambled) on 2 slices whole meal toast + ½ cup vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, tomato, onion).
  • Fruit smoothie – low fat plain yoghurt, low fat milk (or milk alternative), 1 cup chopped fruit (your child’s choice),
  • Wholegrain cereal + low fat milk + honey

What to eat 1-2 hours prior to exercise:

  • Piece of fruit (apple, banana)
  • 2-3 rice cakes with peanut butter and honey
  • 1-2 slices of white or whole meal toast with honey or jam
  • 1-2 cups watermelon
  • Muesli bar

During exercise

Water should be the only fluid being consumed during exercise. If exercise duration is longer than 60 minutes, then a carbohydrate-rich fluid or snack should be considered. Some options may include Gatorade or powerade, watermelon, energy gels or lollies. All of these foods and fluids are contain highly available sources of carbohydrate which the body can use quickly.

After exercise

This meal or snack provides an opportunity to repair muscle tissue, rehydrate the body and restore glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. This meal should contain lean protein and carbohydrate and should be consumed within 60 minutes after exercise.

Some examples of what to eat after exercise include:

  • Wholegrain sandwich, roll or wrap with lean protein (egg, turkey, chicken, beef, falafel) with salad or vegetables (cucumber, lettuce, tomato, grated carrot, beetroot)
  • Fruit smoothie – low fat milk, plain yoghurt, 1 cup fruit (banana, berries), honey, ice.
  • Plain yoghurt and fruit – watermelon is high GI carbohydrate, providing a fast release source of sugar to aid a quick recovery!
  • Rice cakes or vita wheats with tinned fish, egg or peanut butter and honey.
  • Lean protein (trimmed steak, skinless chicken, legumes) with pasta, basmati rice or potato and salad or vegetables.

It is important to remember that practice makes perfect, and just as your child’s chosen sport needs to be ‘practiced’, so too does sports nutrition!

For more information, please visit Sports Dietitians Australia (www.sportsdietitiansaustralia.com.au) to access further resources or to find an Accredited Sports Dietitian.

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