The goals of good nutrition for any active child are simple – maintain good health, optimise performance, ensure adequate growth and development occurs, and help them to continue to enjoy their sport by maintaining energy levels and staying well hydrated.
Maintaining good health
Keeping kids healthy takes more than just eating good food, but establishing healthy eating habits from a young age will offer your child the best opportunity to maintain a healthy body weight, and ensure that all the necessary nutrients needed for growth and development are consumed on a regular basis. Making good food choices is a very confusing science for parents partly because of the huge array of choices now available. We suggest to keep things as simple as possible and use a mix of fresh, processed and convenience foods to ease the burden on ‘time poor’ parents. Healthy food, fast and frequently, is the recipe for success.
Growth and development
With the obesity rates in children escalating and much discussion occurring related to this topic we certainly encourage parents to keep their kids active and enjoying their sport. Daily activity combined with healthy food choices to provide the fuel needed to support the energy demands of swimming will ensure your child grows at their normal rate. Swimmers are notoriously ‘always hungry’ and it is important to top up their fuel supplies regularly with healthy snack options. Active kids need regular snacks but please encourage healthy low fat, low salt alternatives that will satisfy their needs without a surplus of kilojoules (energy) being consumed. If your child is constantly hungry, try including more Low Glycemic Index foods such as oats for breakfast, low fat dairy foods, wholegrain breads and cereals, and fresh fruit for snacks. Kids require a daily mix of carbohydrate rich foods (for fuel), protein foods (for growth and muscle development), a small amount of healthy fats, along with plenty of fluids (mainly water).
Achieving energy balance
It is difficult to predict exactly how much food will be enough for your child as their energy requirements are very individual and continually changing due to growth spurts and changes in activity patterns. Appetite and regular growth checks will guide parents as to the amount required. Encourage your child to understand the difference between ‘need’ and ‘greed’, as overeating is a possibility especially when at carnivals. We see kids snacking excessively on energy dense foods while waiting for their turn to swim – often not really hungry, but simply filling in the time. On the other hand, please make sure your swimmer has suitable breakfast foods ready to eat following morning training as this meal is critical to their performance during the day at school. A tired swimmer has a tough time maintaining concentration in the class room, as well as then not having enough fuel in the tank for afternoon sessions. Swimmers need to learn about active recovery from an early age, especially once they start doing double training sessions in a day. This involves replacing the fuel used during activity as quickly as possible after training to ensure their body is ready for the next session.
Keeping swimmers well hydrated is an ongoing concern for parents and coaches. It seems this group of athletes are particularly at risk of dehydration due to the fact that their fluid losses during activity are difficult to notice. It is important that swimmers take a drink bottle with them to each training session and to use during the day at school. Kids taking water from the bubblers are at risk as it is difficult to accurately assess intake. Some simple hydration checks include getting kids to check the colour and frequency of their urine output – dark, infrequent urine is a sure sign of insufficient fluid intake. Remember that if your child is taking a vitamin supplement this can also affect the colour of their urine. Water is always the preferred every day hydration fluid; however, there is a place for sports drinks. The ideal time to use these products is before, during and after activity, particularly when your child is competing in multiple events at a carnival, or doing extra heavy training sessions. Often a mix of water and sports drink will provide the ideal rehydration formula for swimming. Milk drinks and fruit juice are good fluids to consume for snacks or with meals but are not the best choices to use during activity. Other flavoured fluids should be kept for special occasions only. At all times it is important to remind your child about healthy dental hygiene habits too.
What your swimmer eats and drinks each day is more important than what is consumed the night before or during a carnival. Healthy every day eating will provide the fuel and nutrition needed to keep kids training well, which in turn helps to produce their best performance during competition times. Special attention paid to recovery and refuelling after activity will give your child their best chance of producing their best results. Ensure your swimmer has a healthy pre-event meal and takes appropriate quality and quantity of snacks and fluids on carnival days. It is not always possible to rely on the canteen to provide suitable alternatives, so plan ahead and be self sufficient if possible. After a big day of competition is a good time to allow some treat foods and will help to add fun to eating. Remember that swimmers who eat well will feel great and therefore can perform to their potential in all aspects of their lives. An early investment in establishing a healthy relationship with food will last your child a lifetime.