Could you be inadvertently knocking your young athlete “Out of Bounds” with improper nutrition?
In our #ConcessionRevolt article, we explored the objective of concession stands in youth sports (to fund athletic programs) and the irony of selling junk food to support something that is supposed to be healthy. We questioned the cost of it all when we consider our children’s overall health and performance. Over a series of articles, we will continue to examine nutrition’s role in youth sports. Today we’re going to narrow in on how choosing the wrong food can actually sabotage your child’s performance.
We (parents) encourage and facilitate our children’s involvement in sports for a variety of reasons; the main ones being that we want them to learn, experience, and/or develop:
• Cooperation and
And let’s face it; we also want them to be the best they can be. If they want to win, we want it just as much as they do. To provide them every opportunity possible, we put the effort into getting them into camps, specialized training programs, and even private coaching.
Do we do the same when it comes to fueling their body for performance?
To be sure, most parents have the best intentions. However, when it comes to ensuring our kids are fed before, during, and after events, the tendency is to (unintentionally) load them up with mostly nutrient poor/nutrient depleting sugar filled food-like substances - basically empty starches filled with questionable chemicals. If you check out the labels of most protein bars and sports drinks, you will see lots of different terms to disguise the amount of sugar. Additionally, you’ll likely see fillers, additives, and food coloring, and perhaps some ingredients that you don’t recognize. The reality is, most of these products are no better than candy bars and soda.
You might think, “kids are really active - they will burn it off”. The truth is, many of them do burn the calories - but NUTRIENTS matter, it's not just CALORIES. Your child’s body needs proper fuel from real food nutrients to support:
• Agility and
Refined grains and flours, industrialized fats and oils, and processed sugars (including corn syrup), are not the building blocks a healthy, active body and brain needs to optimally perform those tasks. You can bet that regular consumption of these chemical laden empty starches affect performance. High levels of refined sugar results in sugar spikes and crashes which may:
• impact the nervous system and cause erratic motor skills
• contribute to fatigue
• cause stomach/digestive issues
• contribute to a foggy brain
• increase inflammation and
• negatively affect mood
….possibly resulting in a moody, unfocused, uncooperative, sloppy athlete that doesn’t feel good. This is not fun for anyone – the athlete, the coach, the team, the spectators, nor the parents.
All the hard training and reasons for participating in a sport are sabotaged by poor fuel choices.
What is the solution? It’s not easy but it does require the same diligence and commitment as showing up and giving it your all at practice and competitions. It requires attention, planning, cooperation, and frankly, buy-in from your athlete. It requires combining fresh, real whole foods for pre and post workout meals, for snacks, and really - all their meals. This means less packaged foods in general. That said, not all packaged foods are off the table. When choosing packed foods, look for ingredients that you recognize as real food.
Engage your child in the process; empower them with the ability to make smart choices. You can control what you bring into your home but you can’t always control what happens outside your home and nor should you. Your child will likely make some poor choices and learn the hard way but once they are fueling with mostly wholesome foods, they will begin to notice the difference and will hopefully make the right choices for themselves.
It might be helpful for your young athlete to know that even professional organizations such as the L.A. Lakers, have made a commitment to support their performance, recovery, and overall health with fresh whole foods. A few years ago, the Lakers added their Director of Nutrition, Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition, to their training staff. You can read more about Dr. Shanahan and the Laker’s nutrition program, Pro Nutrition, on the NBA’s official website. Deep Nutrition is one of my favorite nutritional reference books, it’s not light reading but I highly recommend it!
In our next article we’ll discuss how the improper fueling and unhealthy dietary habits bleed into other areas of life, such as academic performance and health. We’re working up to sharing our take on healthy fuel options so stay tuned! In the meantime, we’d love to answer any questions you might have about nourishing your athlete!
Go to our Facebook page and use #AskHolly in the comments!