Healthy eating habits/Sports nutrition for children

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Why is nutrition important for sports performance?[edit]

Good nutrition is important for sports performance as it can assist with energy levels and recovery. A common issue experienced in sports people is not consuming the required amount of energy from food [1].

Energy[edit]

It is important to fuel your body with energy from food (kilojoules) to meet the demands of exercise and help with recovery after physical activity. This is due to exercise increasing energy requirements, which varies depending on the type, duration and intensity of the exercise [1] [2]. The higher intensity and longer duration the exercise, the higher the energy requirements from food will be [3]. The three main nutrients that supply the body with energy are:

  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates[edit]

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy as when ingested, they are broken down into smaller sugars such as glucose which is the main source of 'food' for our cells. When there is more glucose than the body needs to use for energy, it converts it into glycogen (which is made up of many connected glucose molecules) and is stored in the liver or muscles. Glycogen is the major source of energy for exercising muscles, and when there are low glycogen levels (usually after 2 hours) the body switches to using fat as energy, which can result in fatigue, tiredness and is commonly referred to as athletes 'hitting the wall'. It is therefore important to eat foods high in carbohydrates to restore these glycogen stores after exercise to improve recovery. Foods that are rich in carbohydrates include cereals, breads, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, milk and yoghurt.

Protein[edit]

Protein is important to help your muscles recover, repair and rebuild after exercise and can be used as an energy source, when carbohydrate reserves are very low. Protein rich foods include chicken, red meat such as beef, pork, fish, eggs, dairy foods and nuts.

Fat[edit]

Fat provides energy source for long duration, low to moderate intensity exercise such as marathons [1].

  • It is recommended to include moderate amounts of ‘healthy’ fats in your diet i.e. nuts, seeds, fish, reduced-fat dairy foods, lean meat and avocados.
  • Foods high in ‘unhealthy’ fat should be limited and include foods such as chocolate, pastries, chips and deep fried foods

So why are snacks important?[edit]

Snacking in addition to regular planned meals, is essential to help meet energy and nutrient requirements (such as carbohydrate, protein and fats) to optimise performance. An athlete's diet should typically consist of high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat foods [4].

Nutrition and snack ideas before exercise[edit]

Foods eaten before exercise need to be digested and absorbed to maximise the energy available from the foods during physical activity. Foods typically high in fat, protein take longer to digest, and may result in stomach discomfort during exercise [4]. Therefore snacks should be eaten at least 1 to 2 hours prior to exercise, that are high in carbohydrates, low in fat, to help with digestion and avoid stomach discomfort. Above all, it is important to try and test snacks as results will vary for each individual [4].

A 'banana' is an example of a quick and easy high carbohydrate snack that can be eaten on toast with honey before exercise
Examples of high carbohydrate snacks before exercise
Cereal bars [4]
Banana and honey sandwich [4]
Fruit scone with jam [4]
English muffin with thick spread of topping [4]

These snacks should be high in carbohydrates and low in fat

Too nervous to eat?[edit]

If you are too nervous to eat before exercise, experiment with a routine that works and with foods that are safe and familiar. These could include snacks that are easier to eat and that are appetizing i.e. chocolate milk, cereal bars and some sports drinks [3].. Studies have shown that performance is improved when you are well-fueled and rehydrated [[1]] before exercise [3]..

Nutrition and snack ideas for post-exercise recovery[edit]

Post exercise nutrition and snacks are important to:

  • Refuel muscle glycogen [1]
  • Repair muscle tissue for maintenance and development [1]

Therefore, recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrates and some protein and should be eaten 30 minutes after finishing training or a tournament [4].

Vegemite on toast with cheese is a good post exercise snack
High carbohydrate, high protein snacks after exercise
Vegemite and cheese sandwich [4]
Salad sandwich with meat/chicken/tuna/cheese [4]
Soup in a cup + bread roll + slice of cheese [4]
Chocolate milk [4]


These post physical activity snacks contain a high source of carbohydrates and high/moderate source of protein

Preparation of snacks[edit]

Organisation and preparation of snacks is important to maintain good nutrition before and after exercise, so reliance on a sporting venue is minimal [3].. Preparing meals and snacks the night before is often a good idea, as sporting venues often have snacks and meals that are usually not ideal such as pies, hot chips, chocolates etc. These foods should only be eaten sometimes, and are not ideal foods for before or after exercise or a tournament [3]..

Further Reading[edit]

For more information on nutrition and sports performance, you can visit the Sports Dietitians Australia website and the Australian Institute of sport.

  1. a b c d e Sports Dietitians Australia [SDA], (2009). Eating and Drinking before Sport - Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/Eating_Drinking_Before_Sport.pdf, Accessed: October, 2013
  2. Gollnick, P. D., & Matoba, H. (1984). Role of carbohydrate in exercise. Clinics in sports medicine, 3(3), 583-593
  3. a b c d e Australian Sports Commission (2009) Eating before exercise - Australian Institute of Sport. Retrieved: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/competition_and_training/eating_before_exercise, Accessed on: October, 2013
  4. a b c d e f g h i j k l Sports Dietitians Australia [SDA]. Food for your sport - Basketball. Available at: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/Basketball.pdf, Accessed: October, 2013

↑ a b c d e Sports Dietitians Australia [SDA], (2009). Eating and Drinking before Sport - Fact Sheet.

Available at: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/Eating Drinking Before Sport.pdf, Accessed: October, 2013

↑ Gollnick, P. D., & Matoba, H. (1984). Role of carbohydrate in exercise. Clinics in sports medicine, 3(3), 583-593

↑ a b c d e Australian Sports Commission (2009) Eating before exercise - Australian Institute of Sport. Retrieved: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/competition and training/eating before exercise, Accessed on: October, 2013

↑ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sports Dietitians Australia [SDA]. Food for your sport - Basketball. Available at: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/Basketball.pdf, Accessed: October, 2013

External Links[edit]