Nutrition Advice for Active Children

May 9, 2022

Nutrition Advice for Active Children

We, as adults, understand the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet. But if your child or teen plays a lot of sport or is an athlete performing at a high level regularly, then nutrition becomes even more critical for performance and recovery. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan when it comes to nutrition. Children are all unique, and what they should be eating depends on their age, height, weight, and overall activity levels. The more they are on the go, the more energy and nutrients they need.

One of the most essential things for recovery is the amount of protein a child consumes. This too has many variables depending on their goals, training status, and type of activity, but essentially athletes need to consume anywhere from ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day.

As a general rule, young athletes can meet their daily protein needs by including a source of lean protein, such as eggs, milk, yoghurt, nuts, nut butter, beans, lentils, tofu, chicken or fish at each meal and snack. Eggs are a particularly good way to achieve this as they are inexpensive, and you can have a few in the fridge hard boiled and ready to go.

Having a healthy, balanced diet and drinking lots of water is also important for injury prevention, as essential nutrients can help repair damage from training as well as everyday wear and tear, keeping the body’s muscles, bones, joints, tendons, and organs functioning optimally. Essential nutrients also help the body produce energy and create new muscle tissue, enzymes and other cellular structures involved in energy metabolism.

Young athletes should be eating five or six balanced meals and snacks each day and should be eating every three hours. This can be achieved by making sure your child takes plenty of food from home, as options at school can be limited. Each meal should contain lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need in a day. Snacks should be fruits, eggs, and foods such as cheese slices, which are high in protein and calcium.

We all know that children can sometimes be fussy when it comes to food! We recommend incorporating a good balance of the following foods for young athletes:

  • Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates (oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, sweet potatoes, squash and beans)
  • Fruits (2 to 4 servings per day)
  • Vegetables (3 to 5 servings per day)
  • Lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans/lentils, tofu, eggs, yoghurt and milk)
  • Healthy fats (nuts, nut butter, seeds, olive oil and avocado)

If your child is taking part in high intensity sporting activity, such as a rugby game, it’s crucial that they are adequately fuelled before and afterwards. Foods like overnight oats or porridge with banana and peanut butter are perfect for pre-match; just make sure it’s eaten 1-2 hours beforehand, so it has time to digest properly. For post-match, lean proteins are very important to help the muscles recover and repair, so things like chicken, fish and eggs are good, paired with complex carbs like brown rice and wholemeal bread.

If your child is participating in a tournament day, they can fuel between games with snacks such as nuts, yoghurt, fruit, and energy drinks such as 100plus are also good. One of the most critical elements of training that is often overlooked is hydration, so make sure you get that H2O in!