Fuelled and watered

Make sure children get plenty of water when taking part in sport. Photo: Getty Images
Make sure children get plenty of water when taking part in sport. Photo: Getty Images

Ian Munro discusses the health of children when it comes to sport.

Like many youngsters around the country, our neighbour’s young man is in training for the coming Weetbix Tryathlon. Dad gets dragged out for the runs and the cycling and Mum is managing the swimming.

If you’re new to all this high-intensity training for this or similar events, how to fuel them best may well be a mystery. It’s important to give some thought to making sure they have enough on board for the demands of both the activity and the body’s own growth needs.

There will be a high calorie requirement to support the energy use and sizeable liquid intake to ensure they don’t become dehydrated.

A child is potentially more vulnerable to the effects of dehydration than an adult, particularly on hot summer days and especially days when there may also be a hot, dry wind. So, ensure they drink well before and after and have a liquid top-up every 20-30 minutes, whether or not they feel thirsty. A lightly sweetened, non-fizzy drink such as a sports drink is recommended. Avoid caffeine and ensure they don’t share their drink bottle.

Give some thought to food intake on the day of the event. It may be out of favour with many children these days, but porridge is a good source of carbohydrates, and a meal with food high in carbohydrates is important before any intensive activity. It’s possible to get porridge these days with a fruit content, which is a useful addition. Midday food could include pasta, rice or starchy food such as potatoes and bread. Include fruit and maybe white meat.

Proteins help with muscle maintenance and a protein snack after the event, such as cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, milk or yoghurt, will help the body in its recovery. Trail mixes provide a good snack along the way.

That covers the day of the event, but it’s also important to consider the evening meal the night before. It’s advisable that it is also a meal that combines both carbohydrates and protein. For the above reason, don’t let them focus just on carbohydrates for their energy needs. It’s best to give the body a balanced fuel supply and this is where a pasta or rice meal with a variety of food such as a tomato and vegetable sauce or a salad would be good.

High fat content is not necessary, even for high-energy activities, and is best avoided in the meal or in snacks along the way. Go for low-fat foods.

And it’s not just summer sporting activity. Swimming and winter sports make similar demands on growing youngsters and the above advice applies equally. It can be easy to forget about dehydration in winter or in the pool. 


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