Is your energy bar fuelling you up?

After spending another cold and windy weekend on the sidelines, supporting one of my children playing in a rugby 7s tournament, I was thinking about the amount of preparation it takes for parents just to get their children to the pitch. Especially if there is a lot of uncertainty about the actual event other than the time you are meant to be there by. How many games are they going to play and when? Do they have any breaks between matches? Will they get a long enough break for lunch? And when is the whole thing is going to finally finish?

We are always told by the coaches to make sure to come prepared and bring plenty of food and drink for our children but they never say what kind. We all try to do the right thing but it is really difficult to know what food to pack without resorting to packing the entire contents of your kitchen. All of this makes parents and their children a prime target for the growing sport nutrition industry and their readymade products that are pitched to solved this problem. This is plain to see in the ubiquitous energy bars that are practically inhaled by children as they storm onto the pitch, promising to keep those tired muscles going and increasing performance. But do they really contain the right fuel?

Many of the energy bars on the market are, in fact, full of far too much fat, protein and sugar to give you an energy boost. Eating a snack high in fat and protein is far too difficult for the body to digest unless it is eaten several hours before a sporting event. As our bodies can only use the food we eat once it is digested and absorbed, eating the wrong kind of fuel means that you will still be digesting it when you are expecting to be able to make a hard tackle or score a try. And you can probably imagine what the possible ‘outcome’ could be.

Rather than relying on the empty promises of an energy bar, giving a small snack up to an hour before playing sport based on complex carbohydrates will better help to fuel up active children. This could be a bread roll, bagel, pitta, crumpet, rice cake, breadsticks, plain crackers, fruit or veg. Sticking to these complex carbs will help to release energy slowly and stabilise blood sugar levels, helping to maintain energy levels throughout the match. This is also why it makes sense to stay away from foods that are full of sugar so that you avoid an energy high followed by a massive slump caused by the subsequent drop in blood sugar.

But if you are still tempted by the bars, why not try your hand at these easy recipes for Banana Bars and Banana Apple Bars that are suitable to eat up to an hour before sports. They have been road tested by my rugby player children and received their stamp of approval. Or why not have a look at the other recipes in Fuel for Sport.

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