Am I giving my child enough nutritional food for sports?

Top nutritional tips for your child athlete

If there’s one thing that gets neglected in today’s busyness, it’s food. Fast food options are readily available and convenient - and especially tempting when you’re doing runs between school, sport, and other extramural activities.

How do you ensure your child gets the right nutrition for optimum sports performance? Kids are often quick to grab a sugary drink or some sweets if their blood sugar levels drop during or after sports.

Nutrition has a major effect on our daily energy levels and for children, specifically, it helps to keep energy levels regulated before, during, and after sports. Besides getting the right amount of calories, it takes a variety of nutrients and fluids to keep young athletes performing at their best.

Keep your child fuelled and ready for their sports season by keeping the following in mind when it comes to their diet:

1. Before sports


During physical exercise like school sports, the body sweats to cool itself. To make up for all the lost water, your child needs to stay hydrated by drinking water regularly in the 24 hours before a practice session or match. This includes drinking 400-600ml of water 2-3 hours before exercise.

Dehydration is more common than you might realise and can be caused by drinking too many sugary drinks or caffeine (found in coffee, tea or energy drinks) or eating too much sweet or salty foods.

Even though they might think it’s gross, get your child in the habit of monitoring their hydration levels by looking at the colour of their urine. Light yellow to clear urine means they’re getting enough fluids, but yellow to dark yellow means they need to drink more water.


Make sure that your child has enough fuel for sports. They should eat meals at least three hours before physical activity and a "pre-sport snack" at least 1-2 hours before the game to allow enough time to digest food.

Food recommendations:
•Choose foods high in carbs (such as fruit and whole grains).

• Choose foods that are low in fibre to allow for easy digestion and prevent an upset stomach.

• Choose foods moderate in protein and fat.

• Don’t introduce some strange new food on a sports day. Do that on a day when your child doesn’t have to perform on the sports field.

Energy-boosting snacks

Even though carbohydrates tend to give an energy boost, it will last only about one or two hours. However, eating a snack that combines carbs and protein will provide your child’s body with energy that could last for up to 4 hours.

*Consider slipping some of the following into your child’s snack box: *

• 1 tablespoon of peanut butter with whole grain crackers

• ¼ - ½ cup of cooked oats

• 2-4 tablespoons of hummus with half a whole grain pita for dipping

• 1 small wrap or sandwich with tuna, egg or lean meat

•1-2 eggs with toast

2. During sports

Nutrition and fluids

One big trap kids fall into is thinking that they don’t have to drink something during the game if they don’t feel thirsty.

Depending on the intensity of exercise (and the temperature), your child should drink approximately 125ml-300ml of fluids every 15-20 minutes.

Sports drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes are recommended during intense exercise lasting longer than an hour.

What about coconut water as a replacement for sports drinks, you may wonder. According to studies, coconut water is an effective sports drink if you’re looking to replenish potassium levels. In fact, researchers have found that coconut water has as much as five times the potassium that’s available in most well-known sports drinks.

It’s obvious, then, that coconut water is a good choice for a child engaging in moderate level exercise, as it’ll help in fighting muscle cramps.

However, researchers also found that while potassium levels are higher in coconut water, its sodium levels are low. Coconut water has only two-thirds of the sodium levels found in a sports drink such as Powerade. Therefore, if your child is engaging in intense and strenuous sports with excessive sweating, rather opt for a sports drink.


• Banana

• Apple / orange

• Figs

3.After sports

Nutrition for after-sports recovery

After sports, your child will be less hydrated and will have lower muscle energy than they did when they started.

Consider these tips to help them recover after exercise:

• Have your child drink at least 500ml of water soon after exercise to help them rehydrate.

• For every kg of body weight lost during sports, your child should take in 1.5l water. For example, if a netball player loses 1kg of body weight during a game, they should drink 1.5l of water over the next few hours after the game.

• If your child has been exercising in extreme heat and produced a lot of sweat, offer foods that contain the electrolytes sodium and potassium.

• Carbohydrates after exercise will help restore the muscle's energy stores whereas protein will help repair muscles.

• Aim to have your child eat carbohydrate-rich foods within 30min of finishing their activity. Aim for a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio in their next meal, 2-3 hours after exercise.

Food recommendations after sports:

• Greek yoghurt smoothie with banana and strawberries

• Granola with nuts or Greek yoghurt

• Chicken sandwich

• Whole grain pasta with tomato or meat sauce There is no “miracle food” that’ll help your child perform better on the sports field. The key to a healthy diet for your child and to enhancing their performance is to combine foods that balance carbohydrates, proteins and fats and include appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables.

About Zatsa

Zatsa provides South African schools, parents, and coaches with an easy-to-use platform to administrate and manage school sports events. It is the only locally available solution that enables two-way communication between schools and parents. Sign your school up today to download the beautifully-designed Zatsa mobile app which puts all the details of your children's sports events in the palm of your hand. With the simple click of a button, you can confirm or decline your child's participation, as well transportation requirements.

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[1] Is coconut water the ultimate sports drink?

[2] Food fundamentals: Carbohydrate

[3] Nutrition for active kids & young athletes

[4] Eating for sports

[5] Feeding your child athlete