Eating like a champion.

Wondering how best to fuel your sporty child’s body during competitions or tournaments? Here are some great guidelines and suggestions for the big day.

To support our growing sport stars, we need to be informed and have a better understanding of what they need nutritionally so that there are no negative side effects from competing at a high intensity from an early age.

diet significantly affects athletic performance

An adequate diet in terms of quality and quantity before, during and after training and competition will maximise performance. You need to have a good base diet and to plan for increased nutritional needs during game times
(be it training, a match or tournament).

Overall, both children and athletic children:

  • Use more energy while walking, running and doing other activities compared to adults.
  • Need more protein intake to meet the requirements of growth and muscle repair.
  • Need more calcium for bone development, as well as zinc and iron for growth and development.
  • Have a poor sense of thirst and are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of dehydration.

dieting and children don’t go together

There is no need for children to go on a diet to gain or lose weight in order to meet the specifications that some sports may require and some coaches advise. Diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies and can jeopardise the normal rate of growth and development. In general, children can eat more carbohydrates around sport seasons, when they are training more frequently or intensely, and reduce the amount when they are more sedentary.

energy for exercise

Be aware that your child needs carbohydrates for fueling muscles during high-intensity exercise; but these are only stored for a short time in the body so need to be topped up often with suitable snacks and small meals.  See our ‘Snack suggestions’ box for ideas.

eating the right food throughout the season

Meals (3 main meals) and snacks (3-4 healthy snacks) should be focused on nutrient-dense and carbohydrate-rich foods, like those found in fruits, dairy products, grains, cereals, legumes and vegetables. When creating meals, it can help to choose foods that your child perceives as building strong muscles; a lot of cereals and breakfast foods market themselves this way. The psychological effect can play a huge role in how our children feel and perform.

tricks to beat nervous stomachs

Sometimes kids find it very hard to stomach foods on competition day. Liquid foods can be a good option for kids who can’t eat a proper breakfast, or try simple comfort foods, such as white bread or fruit like an apple. During a tournament, it’s a good idea to provide foods that your child is familiar with and has eaten before. Let your child be the judge of the foods she feels like eating during a big sports day. There will be some foods they feel more comfortable eating before or during sport, and that is normal.

the fluid factor

Often, children need to be reminded to drink during exercise. Dehydration can be dangerous and can affect performance, so it needs to be prevented by drinking enough fluid before, during and after exercise. When the exercise lasts longer than one hour, carbohydrates and electrolytes (salts) need to be added to their drink for energy and as a thirst enhancer. Flavour is another important factor shown to increase voluntary drinking in children, so very diluted fruit juice might help your child drink more. Water only is absolutely fine to be drunk if the exercise lasts no longer than one hour; however, sport drinks can be an option for when the exercise is intense, lasts longer than one hour or is performed in a hot environment.

does my child need isotonic sports drinks?

Parents should be mindful that often these are not needed. The store-bought sports drinks are high in sugar (in order to replace carbohydrate stores), and they also have electrolytes (salts) in them to replace what is sweated out. Unless your child is sweating a lot or using up all their carbohydrate stores in exercise lasting
an hour or more, then food, water or juices can be used just as effectively. Sports drinks should be viewed as a tool to rehydrate and refuel, and not an everday drink option. This homemade sports drink is cheaper, you can control the sugar/salt content and it doesn’t have the artificial colouring or flavourings found in store-bought versions.

Homemade sports drink

(makes 1 litre)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 cup fresh orange juice

suggested tournament fluid plan

Pre-tournament: two glasses of fluid up to four hours before the event; one glass of fluid up to two hours pre-event.

During tournament: half a glass to a full glass every 20 minutes if possible.

Post-tournament: meals and snacks can also provide fluid and can often provide enough of a top-up if sufficient fluid was taken before and during exercise.

The night before

You need less fat and protein, and
more carbs. For example, baked potato, rice or pasta is good (go easy on the butter and cheese). Don’t forget to
offer your child plenty of water to drink.


This is to top-up energy stores in the muscles and the liver, to keep blood sugars stable, to prevent hunger and
to hydrate. Breakfast should be eaten
at least two hours before the event, with
a snack (banana would be ideal) about an hour beforehand.


  • Porridge with yoghurt, berries and a sprinkling of almonds
  • Toast or crumpets with their favourite spread (banana, tinned spaghetti, baked beans or jam, honey)
  • Bowl of fruit salad
  • Bowl of cornflakes or muesli
  • Glass of fruit juice


  • Wholegrain sandwich (ham, chicken, egg or tuna with fav salad ingredients)
  • Pasta with tuna or tomato-based sauce
  • Fruit (banana, apple)
  • Glass of vege or fruit juice

during the tournament

Fluid, carbohydrates and protein are needed for recovery between games or throughout the competition during the day.

Snack suggestions

  • Home-made protein shake (milk, scoop of milk powder, scoop of wheat germ, fruit or berries)
  • Pre-made meal replacements (Complan or Up N Go)
  • Fruit (banana, apple, grapes etc) or vege sticks (carrots, celery, cucumber, etc) with hummus
  • Small tin of creamed rice
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Honey, peanut jam or jam sandwiches
  • Crackers with cheese or cottage cheese
  • Muesli and nut bars
  • Fruit bread
  • Scroggin/trail mix (nuts, seeds, chocolate pieces, dried fruit)
  • Small tins of salmon mayo or tuna mayo

What not to have:

  • sausages
  • chocolate bars/lollies
  • potato chips
  • high-sugar drinks
  • fatty or sugary foods

after training or at end of tournament

Your child needs to refuel their muscles within 30-45 mins with a snack of protein and carbs. This should be followed up with a substantial meal within two hours and your child should drink enough water to make their urine clear!

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