Wednesday, May 02, 2012 1:20 PM
Being a student athlete sure has changed since I was a kid- and not necessarily for the better! My generation enjoyed a more balanced and decidedly less hectic approach to organized sports participation, while today's young competitors have the deck stacked firmly against them. Whether it's early specialization putting them on the fast track to overuse injuries, or the "win at all costs" mentality that seems to permeate youth sports at every level, kids are now being asked to endure way more than they should. They practice too much, compete too often and receive far too much criticism when their results fall short.
When it comes to competitive athletics, kids today are playing by a whole different set of rules and as such, need to do a lot more to keep their bodies fit and injury free. That's why I compiled the following checklist every young athlete (regardless of age, gender, or sport(s), should be following on a regular basis to help ensure a healthier, more enjoyable sports experience.
The first five tips apply to nutritional habits, while the remainder (which will be featured in Part II of this) cover the physical realm. After carefully reading through each of the tips, have your young athlete(s) do the same to see how they stack up. Be sure, however, that any modifications they start making to their existing behaviors are done gradually over the course of several weeks, as this offers the best way to create lasting change.
Once you have the entire list of ten tips, print it out and post it somewhere where they can see it everyday (like on a refrigerator, or bulletin board) and have them grade themselves using the simple scoring system that will be provided. It's a great way to allow them to keep tabs on what they're doing right, as well as identify where their deficiencies may lie.
After several weeks trying to improve their scores, you should notice a definite difference in their overall health and well-being. Now, on to the list!
1. Eat a sensible breakfast EVERY day:
This can be a tough one, as kids are notorious for either skipping breakfast entirely, or making all the wrong choices when it comes to "the most important meal of the day." Current statistics indicate that roughly 25% of American children skip breakfast on a regular basis. This can set the stage for a variety of problems ranging from a diminished ability to concentrate, to an increased propensity for weight gain.
Unfortunately, though, just as many are fueling up on things like sugar-ladened cereals (*Tip: if your cereal has a cartoon character on the box, get rid of it!), toaster pastries, doughnuts, white flour bagels and other high glycemic carbohydrates that trigger rapid increases (and subsequent drops), in blood sugar levels. This isn't exactly an ideal scenario either!
As an athlete, one of the best and simplest nutritional strategies you can employ is to eat a good breakfast each and every day. Aim for foods that have good, low-fat protein sources, predominantly complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. In case you're a little unsure of exactly what that might entail, here are a few suggestions from my colleague, registered dietician Cristina Rivera:
• Whole wheat bagels, or English muffins with turkey bacon and egg whites (add 1 Tbsp feta cheese and ½ cup cooked spinach to sneak in more calcium and an extra serving of vegetables)
• Oatmeal (try making it with low fat milk instead of water for extra calcium and protein) topped with 1 cup fruit and ¼ cup sliced almonds or chopped walnuts
• Whole wheat waffles topped with ¼ cup cottage cheese and ½ cup blueberries. Serve with a hardboiled egg (egg yolk is a good source of vitamin D, which is good for bone health and is not found naturally in many food sources)
• High protein smoothie: Blend ice, ½ cup low fat yogurt, 1 cup frozen or fresh berries, 1 scoop whey protein powder, and 2 Tbsp flax seeds or almonds (Both flax and almonds are high in omega 3, which fights inflammation associated with training)
• Gluten Free Option: Brown rice cakes topped with peanut butter and jelly (can use almond butter or sunflower butter if there is a peanut allergy), 1 cup low fat milk (soy or rice milk can be used for dairy allergies). Serve with ½ cup apple sauce, 1 fruit cup (in its own juice), or a whole fruit.
2. Make sure you're drinking enough water:
This is another area where kids often fall short. In case you're wondering, juices, soda, energy drinks and the like do not count towards your daily water consumption! Remember, your body is roughly about 60-70% water- not 60-70% Gatorade, or Red Bull. So, why not give it what it needs to prevent dehydration and cramping, as well as carry out the countless chemical processes that need to take place to help maintain optimal health. You can read more about your daily hydration requirements, as well as how those amounts change slightly in the periods leading up to, during and after sports participation here.
3. Always try to have nutritious snacks on hand:
One of the easiest ways to fall victim to poor nutritional choices is not having any good snack options with you. Don't take a chance that you'll just be able to "grab" something at school or on your way to the game. Having your bag stocked with lots of healthy, non-refrigerated snacks will help keep you on the right path. Things like whole wheat pretzels and dried fruit, peanut butter on whole grain bread, energy bars and even those single serving Horizon organic chocolate milks can all be easily packed up each morning so that you have quick access to them whenever you need a little pick-me-up.
4. Eat at least 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables:
Here's where you get things like fiber, anti-oxidants and tons of other essential vitamins and minerals that, believe it or not, can be hard to come by on the dollar menu at McDonald's. As a good rule of thumb, strive to eat as many different colored fruits and vegetables as possible to help ensure that you're ingesting a wide array of nutrients. Finally, try and limit your consumption of fruit juices to no more than a couple of those servings, as they tend to be high in calories and sugar.
5. Don't rely on nutritional supplements:
Because young athletes tend to be somewhat impatient, they look for ways to gain a quick edge on their competition, and are often duped into believing the outlandish claims of supplement manufacturers. If there's something they can safely and legally take to build muscle and burn fat, you can bet they will at least look into it. What young athletes often fail to realize, however, is that even if these supplements deliver on their promises (and that's seldom the case), unless a kid is already doing all the right things from a nutritional standpoint, they are wasting their money. Bottom line: You will see much better results by consuming enough good, quality protein from whole food sources, drinking at least 8 glasses of water, eating predominantly complex, low glycemic carbohydrates and getting adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber, than you will from taking any type of supplement.
Stay tuned for part two next week, when I will cover some valuable training tips. Then, I will show you an easy grading system that will give you a tangible way to measure just what kind of care you're taking of that body of yours. Remember, you only get the one, so might as well make it last!
GO TO Part 2
GO TO Part 3