Children who are growing and playing sport have a significant increase in nutrient requirements. If your young athlete is well-nourished, they will be able to play better, for longer and stay mentally alert.
An active child who is not getting enough total energy may feel tired and struggle to maintain their enjoyment in sport.
As a parent, pay attention to these six guidelines, which will help your child make good choices when it comes to healthy eating and activity:
- Use breakfast to jump start a healthy day . Breakfast is the body’s early morning refuelling start. After eight to twelve hours without food, your child’s body will need to replenish his/her energy levels. An ideal daily breakfast consists of fruit or fruit juice, a dairy product, cereals and bread.
- Eat dairy daily. Calcium is the most important mineral for bone formation. If your child’s diet is lacking in calcium, the body will withdraw calcium from bone deposits to use for the normal functioning of nerve and muscle cells. Too many withdrawals will negatively influence bone density later in life. Childhood is the time to build peak bone mass. Encourage your child to eat at least three dairy serves each day to meet their calcium needs. One serve is equal to one cup of milk, two slices of cheese or one tub of yogurt.
- Snack morning and afternoon. Kids constantly on the go need to eat ‘little and often’ to keep ‘topping up’ their energy levels. Regular snacks are just as important as main meals in ensuring good energy and nutrient intake. Plain or flavoured milk, yogurt, fruit, breakfast cereals and muesli bars are all nutritious snack choices.
- Focus on lunch and dinner. These major meals should provide protein (essential for growth), and carbohydrate for energy. Protein-rich foods include lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and legumes. Good sources of carbohydrate include breads, cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables and legumes.
- Drink a lot. Children are not able to regulate their body temperatures as well as adults. Water and sports drinks are the best choices just before, during and after sports. Sports drinks have the added benefit of:
- Providing carbohydrate for muscle energy;
- A pleasant taste, which encourages children to drink more;
- Electrolytes (e.g. sodium), which help with fluid replacement after exercise.
Eat a variety
Encourage your child to choose a variety of foods from the core food groups:
- Breads, cereals and other grain foods
- Milk, yogurt and cheese
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and legumes to ensure an adequate intake of all the essential nutrients.