Nutritional guide to help fuel your child across the finish line
Are you and your family getting ready for a big game or an event? Here are some tips on how to fuel your child to help them make it over the finish line.
Although most kids' events are based less on winning and more on getting in, getting active and having fun, there will still be a level of preparation involved as some can be quite big.
Just as your child may participate in some training, in order to make the distances involved in their category, you should also think about what they eat and drink before, during and after the event. Getting your nutrition plan right before the big day is important. Practice with nutrition during the training period so you both know what feels good in their tummy and provides enough energy to make it through.
Without proper nutrition and hydration your child may experience increased fatigue, muscle soreness, and have a reduced performance but also miss out on enjoying the event as they don’t feel their best.
Before the event
Before exercise, the focus should be on foods that are rich in carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are your body’s petrol. They are stored in the muscles as ‘glycogen’. Your body then calls upon your glycogen stores throughout the day to power your muscle contractions.
The food should also be familiar and easy to digest. Trying something new before an event may be risky in case it disagrees with little tummies. Avoid foods that are higher in fat such as creamy pastas and fried foods as they are hard work on digestive systems.
The night before
The night before, ensure your child eats a good dinner with some carbohydrate like wholegrain pasta or bread, sweet potato or rice. Also, ensure they are well hydrated in the days prior by making certain they drink plenty of water. Dehydration can affect performance, but more importantly it can lead to headaches and dizziness, which takes the “fun” out of a fun run.
The morning of the event
On the morning before the event your child should aim to have breakfast about two hours before the race begins, and it ought to be something that would be considered a fairly normal breakfast for your child. Trying to have a big breakfast on the day when that’s not normal for your child may lead to stomach upset.
A good breakfast idea would be wholegrain cereal with milk, wholegrain crumpets with sliced banana and honey, raisin toast or for something lighter, a fruit smoothie with milk or yoghurt. All of these breakfasts have a slow releasing form of carbohydrate in them to give your child the petrol they need to get through the event. Again, ensure they drink plenty of water.
If your child is used to having something to eat closer to an event, something carbohydrate based that is easily digested is a better idea, this may be a piece of fruit, or a cracker with nut spread. They may not want water right before the event as they may not like the feeling of water in their tummy as they race, but be mindful of replenishing their fluids as soon as the race is over.
During the event
Kids should not need to eat during the event as we generally really only need to refuel if we are exercising longer than an hour at a time. Instead, focus on refueling and rehydrating those tired bodies after the event.
After the event
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Water is the best choice for rehydrating. Energy drinks and juices should be avoided as they are laden with sugar. For exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes, we may need to look at replacing carbohydrate and electrolytes with sports drinks or gels but this is not really recommended for children.
After their mammoth effort, your child would have also used some of their glycogen stores so it’s important to refuel with a post event meal that has some carbohydrate in it too.
The other thing to consider is a lean source of protein. After exercise, your muscles repair themselves, and protein foods such as egg, beans, lentils, chicken or dairy can help support the repair of the muscles.
Some great post event meal ideas that combine both carbohydrate and protein include pasta salad with chicken and veggies or a wholegrain salad and cheese sandwich or wrap, or muesli with yoghurt and berries. Team that with a big drink of water, and a huge pat on the back for getting involved and having fun.