Food, drinks, and energy in sport

The following article has been written by Bel from The Root Cause.

Winter is here, and for many that means weekend sports, and school athletics carnivals.

It is undisputed that sport is important for the physical and mental health of children, but what is concerning is the mixed messages we are giving children.

On one hand, we’re encouraging them to do sport because it’s good for their health. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for children to be given food and drinks at sports events, that are not great for their health. Think lollies, poppers, chocolate, cakes, and even sports drinks.

There is also a common belief that kids need sugar for energy. Whilst sugar does give energy, it’s not the best form of energy for sport. To help you understand this a bit better, let’s bust some of the common myths around food, sport, and energy.

Myth #1 – Sugary foods are good for energy

It’s common for people to think that sugary foods like lollies, chocolates, or even drinks like juices, slushies, or sports drinks give you the best energy.

Even though it’s true that sugar does give a spike of energy, this spike doesn't last very long – usually about 10 minutes. This usually means that the energy from sweets will drop off when the kids are back out playing. However, when they have snacks like fruit, which contains sugar, as well as fibre, vitamins, and minerals, the spike of energy will usually last about 30-45 minutes. Usually long enough to last the rest of the game. The picture below explains this further.

Myth #2 – Sports drinks are needed for energy

Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) confirms these drinks are not required for recreational sport¹ – which is what most weekend games of sport or athletics carnivals are.

Most sports drinks contain lots of added sugar. Do you know that a normal-sized sports drink can contain a whopping nine teaspoons of sugar?

Water is the best drink for hydration and energy for recreational sport.

Myth #3 – Sports drinks are needed to replace electrolytes

Unless the exercise is strenuous and over 60 minutes, it is unlikely a person would have sweated enough to require a replacement of electrolytes. This may change if the person sweats excessively or the exercise is taking place in really hot, humid weather.

Most kids playing weekend recreational sport or participating in athletics carnivals, rarely exercise for more than 60 minutes continuously, and for many, it is not super strenuous.

Myth #4 – Kids need a sugary snack after sport

Just as sugar is not a great snack before or during a game, it's not great post-game either.

After sport, our body needs to recover and repair itself. This is important to help with muscle growth and repair, plus to refuel and rehydrate your body.

Water and a light snack should be enough until the next meal time. Protein is important for muscle growth and repair and complex carbohydrates are needed to refuel the body. Examples of light snacks include a piece of fruit such as a banana, a slice of wholegrain bread, some plain wholegrain crackers, some cheese or yoghurt.

Make it easier for our kids to make better choices

The last thing I want to address when it comes to food and sport is this:

If we give kids the choice between foods and drinks which are sugary and colourful, and real foods like fruit, of course they will gravitate to the sugary and colourful foods.

Sugary, colourful foods are made in a lab and are specifically designed to make our taste buds go yum. Further, research shows that even seeing sugar can light up the reward centre in our brains.


  1. Sports Dieticians Australia – What about sports drinks?


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