Nutrition Q&A by Parents & Coaches

Parents and coaches are the pillar behind the success of athletes. However many parents and, sometimes even coaches have areas in nutrition where they seek more guidance, so that they can give the best support to their athletes to help them improve.
Sometime ago, we spoke to a community of parents and coaches from a high performance Gymnastics club who raised some key questions to understand how they can support their athlete's nutrition planning. Recently more parents have been reaching out to ask similar questions so, we thought we will share some of the FAQs raised with us. 
1. What are some useful quick snack (other than protein bars) to eat in the car after training?
  • Peanut butter with carrot/ celery sticks
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Greek yogurt and fruit (Greek yogurt are rich in casein protein and a good slow release protein for overnight repair)
  • Trail mix
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on whole grain bread

During ProYouth’s work with the Sports Scientist we also quote the below comment:

Protein rich in amino acids are essential post work out for muscle repair and best combined with carbohydrate. Chocolate milk is often a suggested supplement post exercise.

2. My child is a fussy eater when it comes to eating meat. How can I ensure they still consume enough protein in their diet if they don’t eat meat?

 Try and introduce more beans and legumes (such as Kidney beans, black-eyed beans, chickpeas and lentils) into your child’s diet. Soy products are also a great alternative food such as tofu, soy milks and yogurts. Eggs also provide a good amount of protein and can be prepared in multiple different ways (boiled, fried, poached, scrambled and omelette). There are currently many vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives on the market which contain adequate amounts of protein.

3. How much fluid should my child consume each day? Is this based on their weight/Age?

 According to the NHS the recommended fluid intake for children is:

1-3 years  -   1 litre

4-8 years  -   1.2 litre

9+ years  -   1.5 litre

All beverages will count as part of your child’s daily intake, but it is recommended that majority of your fluid intake is made up of water.

4. How should an athlete change their nutrition prior to a competition or even on the day of a competition? (Coach question)

Firstly, the athlete should stick to foods that they are familiar with so no drastic changes in diet. But prior to the competition the athlete may want to increase the portion size ever so slightly to ensure they have enough fuel to perform at their optimum. Slower release energy foods are more desirable and can be present in lower glycaemic index (low GI) foods such as wholegrain oats, low starch vegetables, most fruits, nuts, pulses and bran breakfast cereals. Ideally, we want to incorporate these foods before we exercise for prolonged energy and after to aid the recovery of muscles.

Hydration is also really important as dehydration can affect performance by causing tiredness and fatigue. The body can lose a lot of fluid through sweat when preforming so it’s important that athletes stay well hydrated. It may be a good idea to consume drinks or waters containing electrolytes prior to competition to help with fluid balance and hydration.

5. What are the best sources of slow releasing energy for a young athlete and when is the best time to consume them?

 Some of the best slow releasing energy sources are prevalent low glycaemic index foods. Foods such as:

  • Wholegrain oats   -Bran breakfast cereals
  • Brown rice           -Legumes
  • Vegetables.         -Pulses
  • Fresh fruits          -Nuts and nut butters

Pre- workout snacks can be eaten one hour to 30 minutes before a workout

6. Are isotonic drinks such as Lucozade ideal during a session? Are there better alternatives? 

 Lucozade is an energy drink containing carbohydrates so can provide you with energy during a training session. Due to it’s high glucose content it will provide you with a quick burst of energy. Further, if you are undertaking a long training session there are better and more suitable sources of energy. Consuming slow release energy foods, snacks and beverages are a better alternative as they will provide you with sufficient energy over a longer period of time, as opposed to a quick elevation in blood sugar.

Electrolyte waters and low sugar sports drinks can also be a good alternative to prevent dehydration.

High sugar energy drinks and foods are associated with several health problems so should be avoided consuming on a frequent basis. Lucozade also claim that Lucozade Sport is not really suitable for children under the age of 16, as children’s requirements of energy and nutrients are different from those of an adult.

During our work with Sports and Applied Scientists and nutritionist we learnt the below:

It is confirmed in scientific research that sugars, refined sugars, result in a high insulin response in order to remove the glucose from the blood as this has life threatening effects. The consequence from a sugar rush is an equally high release of insulin which often results in a sugar low and this creates a roller coaster effect. Long term impact from this is eventually the body becomes resistant to insulin and more and more is needed to reduce the glucose from the blood. This then results in diabetic conditions. The prevalence of high performing sports people and Diabetes Type 2 should come as no surprise. Consequently, carbohydrates that release their sugars more slowly are far better to maintain an even insulin and blood sugar response.

 7. I have been out of training for so long due to injury. I am worried my body will be very sore when I start training again. What are the best foods to eat to help my body recover and repair?

To avoid muscle soreness, it is important that muscles are replenished pre and post working out. This will ensure that the muscles are not to strained and also help aid in recovery. In order to build muscle, the muscle tears are repairs itself and overtime this grows the muscle. The best food to eat when training is protein. Protein is the macronutrient that is responsible for repairing muscle and tissue. Therefore, to avoid soreness supplement with rich protein foods such as: Protein shakes/ bars, lean cuts of meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and nut butters. 

The muscles also store glycogen (a stored form of carbohydrate) this creates energy for the muscle. We obtain glycogen from glucose and glucose from the carbohydrates we eat. Therefore, its important carbohydrates are consumed before a workout, not only will this help keep your glycogen stores topped up but will also help with endurance. Some good slow releasing carbohydrates include: wholegrain cereals, wholegrain pasta brown rice, low sugar granola bars, low fat yogurt, whole grain crackers, fresh fruits and vegetables.

 8. We are limited to time between the end of school and the start of training. What is an ideal snack to have that will provide enough fuel for a 4 hour training session?

 I would recommend having a filling lunch whilst at school then a protein energy snack in between meals. This could consist of a protein snack bar, peanut butter and banana sandwich, trail mix, hard boiled eggs, fruits, nuts and yogurt. Alternatively, a small meal such as half a baked potato with a tuna and baked bean filling. Ideally the snack should be a combination of protein and a slow release energy carbohydrate. I would also recommend staying well hydrated throughout the day to avoid dehydration and fatigue.

 9. What impact can nutrition have on my performance?

 Nutrition can have a huge impact on our ability to perform and the quality of our performance. When we engage in physical activity, we have higher energy requirements because our body is using up more energy. Good nutrition can also enhance performance by ensuring our body has enough fuel, it can also reduce the risk of injuries and strains and ensure the best recovery after exercise. However, the diet that will best suit an individual will depend on the amount and intensity of physical activity.


Rachel Akuffo (ANutr) Certified Nutritionist