There are so many benefits in being more active. But let’s face it sometimes it can be hard to get started. Most people advise about an hour of moderate activity everyday for teenagers and you’ll be surprised at how quickly this can become a normal part of your day.
We’ve divided this section into food advice for young people who are very active. You’ll find lots of advice on how to eat to help you perform even better. You might find this really helpful if you train and compete regularly.
In our Get Active section you’ll find loads of helpful tips for ways in which you can become more active. Don’t despair it needn’t be hard work!
If you’re looking for inspiration then try our get moving calculator. In just a few clicks you’ll find out just how much energy you could be burning through simple everyday activities and sports.
If you want to increase the amount of activity you do each day and so increase the amount of energy you burn up then get into good regular habits. Try:
- Helping around the house
- Washing the car by hand
- Climbing the stairs more often
- Cutting the grass every week
- Take the stairs more often, not the lift or escalator
- Go for a brisk walk when you have spare time
- Walk or cycle to the shops, college or school instead of going by car or bus
- Get off the bus or tube a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
- Limit TV, computer games and consoles to no more than 2 hours a day
- Take up a new sport or activity
If you want to tone up and burn some excess energy it doesn’t have to be a chore.
There are lots of things that you can do and you don’t even need to do them all at once.
Find out how you can burn up extra calories. It can be as simple as walking an extra 10 minutes a day.
And we have some brilliant ideas for sports to try as well some great ideas for other activities.
So if you want to give your body a boost then read our Benefits of Being Active page.
Don’t forget being active can help you to:
- Feel good about yourself
- Get a better shape
- Be more confident
- Get fitter
- Be less stressed
Benefits of Being Active
Being active should be an important part of your every day routine. It helps you burn up excess energy (calories) and helps prevent you putting on too much weight. Not only that, it helps strengthen your bones and muscles, keeps your body healthy and makes you feel good.
What’s in it for me?
- Feel fitter
Being active more often will help you feel much fitter and healthier.
- Maintain a healthy weight
People who are “always on the go” burn more energy and are less likely to become overweight.
- Help lose excess weight
Increasing activity can help people who are overweight to start to lose some of this weight.
- Can help you feel less stressed
Being active causes your brain to release endorphins and other feel-good hormones. These chemicals give you a natural buzz and feeling of well being. This can help you cope with stressful times (like exams) and stop you from becoming depressed.
- Be healthier
By being active you’ll help to keep yourself healthy by strengthening your bones and muscles and keeping your heart and lungs healthy.
Being active can help improve your confidence and helps you feel good about yourself.
- Help make new friends
Being out and about and trying new activities means there will be lots of opportunities for you to meet new people and find new friends.
What does being physically active mean?
Being active doesn’t always mean having to do exercise like going to the gym or getting out on a football pitch, its much more than that. Everyday activity such as walking, dancing, doing a paper round, cycling to college or helping around the house all count.
How should I go about it?
There are lots of different things that you can do. If you like sport, check out our Get Involved in Sports page for endless ideas of how to get active.
If you don’t like sport but want ideas for hobbies and things you could take up that encourage activity check out our Ideas for Non-Sporting Activities page.
Find a venue or location near you for a particular sport or activity in England.
Should I get a pedometer?
Pedometers are great for helping motivate you to do more activity. On average teenagers take about 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day. If you want to find out how many steps you normally take each day then get hold of a pedometer – they are usually quite cheap – and can be bought online or at sports shops, chemists and department stores.
Fix the pedometer to your waistband and log how many steps you do each day for a few days. Then try to gradually increase the number of steps you do by 200 a day over the next few weeks, aiming for 10,000 a day.
Ideals of how to increase your steps:
- Walk to and from school, college or your place of work everyday
- Walk part of your journey each day
- At break-times go for a walk
- Go shopping (supermarket, local shops or shopping centres all offer opportunities to walk more)
- Offer to walk the dog more often
- Walk to family or friend’s house
- Walk up and down stairs more often
- Call round to see your mates or relatives more often
- Check out local tourist sites, playgrounds, places of interest
- Train for a local charity walk
- Find out about local walks in England
Remember being active more often is not only good for you; it helps you feel good about yourself and more confident too.
Get Involved in Sport
Sport is a great way to keep active. Give your heart a workout and burn off some energy by trying some of these sports.
You’ll see some are more energetic than others. But all of these get you out of a chair and moving around.
Find out where you can do these sports in England.
Badminton, basketball, ice hockey, football, rugby, hockey, rowing, cricket, lacrosse, volleyball or netball.
Group & Individual Sports
Archery, judo, karate, jujitsu, tae kwon do, gymnastics, athletics, squash, tennis, table tennis, green bowling, ten pin bowling, canoeing, sailing, swimming, running, gym sessions or climbing.
Things to do with the family, your mates or even on your own
Golf, ice skating, American pool, snooker, darts, swimming, roller blading, roller skating, wind surfing, water skiing, skiing, tennis, table tennis, skate boarding or paint balling.
Let us know how you keep active or tell us about any unusual sports you are involved with and we’ll share the best stories in our regular newsletter.
Ideas for Non-Sporting Activities
Watching TV or playing computer games for too long means being inactive. And it’s a fact that if you watch too much TV and play too many computer games you’re much more likely to put on weight than if you are out and about.
Here are some things to get you out of the house in the evening and at weekends. Start by picking one or two things that appeal to you. Before long you’ll be making up your own ideas.
- Fly a kite
- Fly a model aeroplane
- Throw a frisbee, ball or boomerang
- Walk or run round the block
- Climb a tree or a hill
- Run for 5 minutes
- Jog for 20 minutes
- Walk the dog (ask your neighbours if you don’t have one)
- Start a paper round
- Go dancing or use a dance mat
- Play twister with your mates
- Get an allotment or take up gardening
- Go shopping
- Try metal detecting on a beach, in a field or your garden
- Visit a museum, zoo or arboretum
- Go fruit picking
- Ride your bike
- Kick a ball around or catch a baseball
- Skip 200 times (with or without a rope)
- Hang out the washing
- Water the garden or help with weeding or pruning
- Wash the car
- Run errands for a neighbour, friend or relative
- Start some voluntary work
- Start a part-time or holiday job which keeps you active
Are you an athlete? Do you train and compete regularly in sport, tract, field or other strenuous activities? Then this page could be for you.
It’s a fact that eating the right thing at the right time can affect how well you perform at your chosen sport. So if you want to be ahead of the game, find out more about what to eat and drink, when and why with our Food for Sport section.
If you’re not so sporty or active then read our Tips for Sporting Events for ideas on activieis you could get involved in.
Food for Sport
The basic principles of healthy eating apply to all athletes. Eating a healthy balanced diet will provide you with all the nutrients you need to take part in your favourite sport or activity. If you take your sport seriously, you need to get to know which foods are good sources of the nutrients you need and when to eat them.
The golden rules are:
- Be the right weight for your height, this means eat enough food for your level of activity. If you eat too little then you won’t be able to keep up your exercise levels.
- Eat enough carbohydrate to keep you going during exercise.
- Eat the right foods at the right time – the timings of meals are just as important as what you eat.
- Drink plenty of fluids. It pays to be well hydrated.
- Eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you get good amounts of all the nutrients your body needs – plenty of wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables and moderate amounts of milk, yoghurt and cheese, lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and pulses.
Carbohydrate – healthy energy foods
Carbohydrate provides the body with the most easily accessed source of energy, so for sporty people carbohydrate is really important.
When you eat carbohydrat,e the energy that you get from it is stored in the liver and in the muscles. This means that when you are active the muscles can use the energy source quickly.
If you get tired during your sport or activity it might be because your stores of energy are running low. The stores in your muscles and liver are used up after about 1 hour of continuous activity.
You can train yourself to store more energy in your muscles. If you train more and eat the right carbohydrate at the right time, the amount of energy you store in your muscles will increase.
Glycogen is stored in limited amounts but the stronger your muscles, the more glycogen they can store and the longer you can keep going. This is why athletes involved in sports like running and cycling spend time in the gym building up their muscles.
Many different foods contain carbohydrate. The richest sources of carbohydrate are:
- Bread (including pizza base)
- Breakfast cereals
- Rice and other cereals
- Pasta, noodles
- Peas, beans and lentils
- Sweetcorn and root vegetables
At least 60% of the energy (calories) in an athlete’s diet should be from carbohydrate. This might seem a lot as most people eat about 40% of their energy as carbohydrate! As a general rule, aim to have half your plate covered by one or more of the above foods.
Other good sources of carbohydrate include fruit (bananas are a great source), juices, low fat cakes (such as scones, teacakes, fruit cake, jaffa cakes), confectionery and sugary products (such as jelly babies, marshmallows, syrups and honey), sweetened dairy products (such as smoothies, milkshakes, sweetened yoghurts and low-fat ice cream) and sports drinks. These can be used as snacks between meals to increase your carbohydrate intake especially when you are training hard.
Protein and Sport
We need protein for our muscles to grow, get stronger and repair themselves.
Good protein choices include:
- Lean meats and poultry
- Beans, lentils, pulses and soya (TVP)
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat dairy products
If you are very active, and train frequently your body generally requires more protein than people who are less active.
But as most people in the UK eat more protein than they need, you’re likely to be getting enough protein to meet your increased needs. This means there should be no need for you to increase the amount you eat and no need to buy protein supplements.
Remember, you should be able to get all the protein you need by eating a variety of foods.
To make sure you get enough carbohydrate in your diet, you need to limit your fat intake, although not by too much as some fat in the diet is essential for good health. Make sure you have the healthier fats in your diet (the unsaturated ones) that come from oily fish, avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds and oils. Cut down on the saturated fats that come from fatty meat products, hard cheese and full-fat dairy products, butter, cream, cakes, biscuits, pies and pastries.
It is still important to keep your heart healthy. Here are some useful tips to reduce fat in your diet:
- Reduce your intake of fried foods, chips and crisps
- Use a minimal amount of fat or oil when cooking
- Use low-fat spreads and low-fat dairy products, such as semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yogurts
- Eat lean meat and remove all visible fat or skin
- Avoid fatty meat products such as pies, pasties, sausages, burgers, pate and salami
- Cut down on pastries, cream cakes and biscuits that contain hidden fats
- Avoid mayonnaise, salad cream and creamy sauces or choose a low-fat version. Try using pickle, mustard or chutney instead.
Drinking for Sport
One of the most important things you can do is to be well hydrated during training sessions and on the day of the event. If you get dehydrated it can stop you performing at your best, so it’s important to make sure you drink enough. Becoming dehydrated is very easy as the body can lose up to 1-2 litres through sweating, even on colder days.
Drink plenty of water before you train and get into the habit of drinking regularly throughout the day and not just waiting until you feel thirsty.
The fluid we have when we’re exercising should be on top of the usual 1.5 litres (6 to 8 glasses) we need every day – more when it is hot.
Try to get used to drinking while you are training and competing, it may feel uncomfortable at first but, once you are used to it, you will be able to take in more water to help improve your performance.
Sports drinks are made to provide just the right amounts of water and carbohydrate (in the form of glucose), so they can be absorbed rapidly. These are worth using if you exercise hard for more than an hour at a time. Re-hydrating with these drinks after a training session or an event is also very important for recovery. If you can’t afford to buy expensive sports drink, make your own at home, try fruit juice mixed with water, well diluted fruit squashes, or juice drinks. These will hydrate you and give you some energy. But remember that these drinks, like sports drinks, still contain sugar, and could lead to tooth decay if you have them too often and if you don’t look after your teeth. Make sure you are well hydrated even before you start exercising.
To help keep you hydrated:
- Don’t wait until you feel thirsty
- Drink lots before you start exercising (water, sugar free squash, well diluted fruit juice)
- Keep some drink to hand so you can reach it whenever you need it while you’re exercising
- Drink plenty when you’ve finished
Sport & Supplements
Extra vitamin and mineral supplements should not be necessary if you are eating a healthy balanced diet with a good variety of foods from all the food groups.
If you still decide to take a supplement:
- It’s best if you speak to your GP, dietitian or sports nutritionist.
- You use a general multivitamin and mineral supplement that is suitable for your age.
- Only use as directed on the instructions.
Its important to remember that supplementation with one or more extra vitamins or minerals can’t make up for not eating well and will not:
- Increase performance
- Offer a competitive edge
- Prevent injuries
- Provide energy
- Build muscles
If you want to take a supplement as an insurance policy:
- Buy a general multivitamin and mineral supplement from a pharmacy
- Check with the pharmacist if you are unsure
- Take the supplement in the dosage recommended – just because some is good doesn’t necessarily mean more is better
Tips for Sporting Event
Here are a few tips to follow if you are gearing up for a sporting event.
- Make sure you keep hydrated.
- Don’t eat a meal too close to your event but make sure you keep up the fluids.
- Try a carbohydrate rich snack or drink just before your event.
- If your event is more than one hour of continuous activity you will need to take on board more carbohydrate.
- Refuel your energy stores straight after by having a carbohydrate rich snack.
- Eat a balanced carbohydrate containing meal within a few hours after your event.
After the event you need to start refuelling your glycogen stores by eating more carbohydrate and also drinking plenty of fluids to help recovery.
It’s All About Timing
On the day of a match or competition, your last big meal should be eaten hours beforehand. This gives the body enough time to digest and absorb all the nutrients. Ideally the meal should contain plenty of carbohydrate foods. Keep this meal light and easy to digest and stick to things you know won’t upset your stomach. This is not the time to start experimenting with food you are not familiar with. But don’t worry if you can’t eat much, it’s perfectly natural to lose your appetite if you’re feeling a bit nervous. If you have been eating well all week, and have lots of carbohydrate foods the day before, you should be fine. About 20 minutes before you start, have a last small carbohydrate snack, this will top up your energy levels. Choose a carbohydrate food or drink with a high Glycaemic Index (Gi). The isotonic sports drinks are a good choice.
After exercise, your muscles need carbohydrate and protein for them to refuel and recover. As soon as exercise stops, muscles can refuel their glycogen stores twice as fast as normal, so it’s important to eat a meal or snack or drink containing plenty of carbohydrate and some easy to digest protein as soon after you’ve finished exercising. This means before you get showered, changed and go home!
- Small bottle of fruit smoothie
- Pot of rice pudding
- Flavoured milk drink
- Yogurt and a banana
The Glycaemic Index (Gi) is a ranking of foods from 0 to 100 according to how quickly each food (when eaten on their own and on an empty stomach) will raise blood sugar levels.
You might find Gi foods ranked as low, medium or high on the packaging of foods you buy. Foods with a low Gi can help stop that feeling of hunger between meals, so are often used by people trying to lose weight.
Carbohydrate foods with a low Gi
- Usually more nutritious
- Release their energy slowly
- Satisfy your appetite for longer
- Are more bulky
How to use them
- These foods help you to regulate your food intake and stop you getting hungry
- The majority of your carbohydrate intake should be from these foods
- They can be used to help you raise your all important glycogen stores in the days before an event
- They help sustain energy levels for longer
For example a bowl of porridge in the morning can give an athlete plenty of energy for moderate activity until lunch-time.
Carbohydrate foods with a high Gi
- Are more processed
- Usually contain fewer vitamins, minerals and fibre
- Give you an instant burst of energy
- Can cause tooth decay
How to use them
- Sparingly, but they can be used to take on extra energy at half-time during a team match or to help refuelling after you have finnished your sport
- You only need these foods if you are exercising hard for an hour or more, or at times when you need to perform at your very best
For example if you are competing in a swimming event with several heats you might want to take on board medium to high Gi foods between heats e.g. a banana, jaffa cakes or a small amount of dried fruit to help keep your energy levels up. Don’t forget these foods contain sugar and so you should remember to brush your teeth regularly twice a day with a flouride toothpaste.
Low Gi Foods
These carbohydrate foods can be used to help you refuel between training and events:
Grapes, oranges, apples, kiwi fruits, pears, peaches, grapefruits, plums, cherries and dried apricots, avocados, peas, green, leafy vegetables and most other vegetables, white and wholegrain pasta, porridge and oatmeal, wholegrain rye bread (including pumpernickel), lentils and beans, soya products, milk and yogurt.
Medium Gi Foods
These carbohydrate foods can be used to help refuel between training and events:
Bananas, figs, dried dates and raisins, fresh dates and mangoes, carrots, sweetcorn, new potatoes, wholemeal bread, rye-based crispbreads, couscous, wholegrain cereals, basmati rice, brown rice. and chocolate.
High Gi Foods
These carbohydrate foods are great for a quick burst of energy during sport or for refuelling afterwards:
Glucose, sweets, still and fizzy drinks, watermelons, mashed potatoes, parsnips, squashes and swedes, white bread, rice cakes and white rice.