Stop Feeding the FAT: Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes
Nutrition for Young Athletes
“So let’s talk about food for a minute kids!”
“What about it? I hate food. Food makes you fat!”
This was a paraphrase of a conversation I had with a young athlete the other day in utter need of some words of wisdom in regarding food choices and nutrient selection.
The problem with much of today’s youth regarding weight issues or lack of performance is multi-faceted and centers around their daily intake of quality nutrients or basically what they’re shoveling in from the trough if you’re looking at your average every day teenager. While you may think your child is eating a healthy diet when you’re around, when you’re not looking they’re cutting corners and getting the job done with far too much junk and fillers.
After coaching many young athletes toward their goals, whether it be performance based or simply making the team next year, one thing that remains a failing point is their nutrition habits.
It’s easy to get pushed through an ever demanding workout on a daily or weekly rotational basis, but just like the adults what you or your athlete may not being doing outside the gym is fueling the body properly to perform better, feel better and overall have an outstanding body comp.
Too Far in Left Field
Now I don’t want to push this too far to the right, but from casual observation of many young athletes they’re eating far too many carbohydrates and/or fats for optimum performance. When asked what a typical teenager eats for breakfast, far too often I hear the words cereal, bagels, toast, and a whole bunch of other junk that I wouldn’t even consider food.
Then for lunch there is the typical sandwich, chips, granola bar, blah, blah, blah, blah…
Snacks are sometimes fruit, granola bars, powerbars, and trail mix. In that mix we have the soda pops and ever popular Gatorade which are very little more than sugar flavored water.
Finally, arriving at dinner is generally a family affair with something a bit more balanced, but I very rarely hear of many vegetables or fruits.
Is there a pattern here? Sure, there is…tell me what it is on Facebook to voice your thoughts.
Soap Box Time
To correct this abundance of so many processed carbs and lack of good nutrient choices you must help your athlete out by giving them the best chance at succeeding in their endeavors. Get rid of most of the processed junk in the house. Whole food will win over processed junk every time. Even the breads and cereals. Our youngsters rely on these foodstuffs far too much. Whether it’s just not knowing what or how to cook, laziness, or simply taste (which sometimes has to be acquired since there are far more tasty treats than broccoli) sometimes a little proactivity on the part of the parent setting the standard is required.
Now I’m not saying cut calories. Younger athletes need more calories pound for pound than adults. It’s a simple fact of nature. However, the quality of the calories should come from foods that are also loaded in nutrients, protein, healthy fats and a bit of carbs.
And if your athlete is actively engaged in their sports they’re going to need one particular macronutrient far more than carbohydrates. What am I talking about? Protein, protein, protein. In order to facilitate growth and repair tissues, while performing at a high level athletes need protein, a lot of it. Encourage them to have a good amount of protein with every meal. Even if it’s just a big glass of milk. That works great for an afternoon snack too. Quick, easy, you don’t even have to prepare it. Slam down a glass of milk and a banana and loads of energy and good growth potential.
Now for main meals, it’s every so important to include substantial protein sources such as beef, chicken, pork and eggs to get the optimum level of amino acids. You just can’t get that from eating cereal and bagels with cream cheese.
Aim for optimizing protein at every opportunity in your youngsters diet to help them build their muscles and re-cooperate from hard exercise.
Body Composition Wars
Now many athletes find it hard to put on weight under even the most frenzied appetites, but there are more and more that find themselves overweight, depressed and obsessed with food making them fat. This advice is for those such individuals.
Don’t make calorie counting an obsession. At the ages from 10-20 for men and 9-16 for ladies you’re still growing a good degree and need plenty of overall calories. There’s nothing wrong with an inch of skin on your belly or thighs at this stage of the game. Forget what the magazines tell you in the photos of air brushed models and steroid ripped guys. It’s all a big show to get you to buy more magazines in hopes of attaining some fake ideal.
Worry about getting plenty of quality foods of all types. Notice I said quality foods. Cereals, breads, pastas, candy bars, fast food and processed junk doesn’t count.
If you’re eating well with a balance of vegetables, fruit, good protein sources and some healthy fats you’re going to be fine. Combine that with a healthy dose of exercise at least every other day and you’re going to be even better.
In the goal of losing bodyfat, bodybuilders do it the best. And their advice? Eat as much as you can without getting fat. Pretty solid advice to me. You can pack away a lot of food if it’s from the right sources without getting any spare rims around the middle very easily.
So to recap let’s talk about food! Food is good. Food is healthy. Food keeps us fueled up and ready to tackle our busy lifestyles. But as Indiana Jones was told with the holy grail, “Choose wisely, the true grail will give you life…the false grail will take it from you!” Get your young athletes geared up for success with plenty of protein at every meal, better sources of carbs through fruits and vegetables, add some solid fats like nuts, nut butters or avocado, get them drinking plenty of milk and watch their performance soar.
If you liked this article please connect with us on Facebook and tell us your thoughts. Additionally, sign up for a Youth Newsletter which has a complete series on fueling your young athlete to excel at their sports! Sign up on our Youth Conditioning page.
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