Healthy nutritional habits and a healthy lifestyle start in the home and environment for youth athletes.
What kids learn in the home carries on with them for a lifetime, so why not set them up for success?
First, we must define what macronutrients are and how to create healthy plates with them.
Macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrate sources that give us energy and fuel the body to create homeostasis. When we speak about macronutrients here, we want to focus on the healthy ones.
A healthy carbohydrate would be beans, lentils, potatoes, parsnips, apples, berries, quinoa, brown rice, to name a few. A healthy fat would be extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado.
Don’t forget about protein; this includes red meats, poultry, fish, dairy. A focus on whole quality foods is key to absorbing the vitamins and minerals to operate our bodies.
Fill half of your plate with vegetables and add protein on the plate, usually anywhere between 2 to 6 palms worth. Add the carbohydrates, about 2 to 3 cups, and the good fats are about 1 to 2 thumbs worth.
The stigma around carbohydrates is primarily focused on white flour carbs; this would be pasta, pizza, bread, fried foods.
As an athlete, carbohydrates are necessary to optimize performance due to the metabolic demands of the sport.
Let’s say your car is on dead empty gas; you won’t get very far before your car starts breaking down, right? The body operates the same way; it must be fueled with whole quality foods so that it doesn’t break down.
“Give a man a fish he will eat for a day; if you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.”
Kids are the same; they need someone to teach them how to have healthy food habits.
What are good nutritional habits and nutrition non-negotiable’s?
- Focus on ample protein at every meal
- Fill up half your plate with vegetables
- Fresh fruits are a great fuel source and snack option
- Eat the rainbow, fresh, colorful whole foods
- Plan out meals
- Goal: Eat 4 to 9 servings of vegetables per day
- Hydrate your body with water and electrolytes
- Choose quality foods and cook with herbs and spices
- Enjoy what you nourish your body with!
Focus on ample protein at every meal
The amino acids that are available from protein-sourced food are crucial for growing bodies. Protein supports numerous processes in the body, now let’s add playing sport for hours on end.
The muscle breaks down and then can’t replenish, so what happens to performance? It can diminish, leading to dysfunction within the system.
Fill up half your plate with vegetables.
Remember this, “eat your vegetables, or you won’t grow.” Each type of vegetable can help with specific body functions based on color. For example, carrots can be beneficial for eye health.
Fresh fruits are a great fuel source and snack option
For example, the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Apples provide a ton of nutrients that help build the immune system and are also good carbohydrates.
We suggest this is a great snack option; it provides satiety, energy, and benefits overall health.
Eat the rainbow, fresh, colorful whole foods.
Would you please think of the seasons? You want those foods that are grown within that specific season because they hold more nutrients.
Shop seasonal and local produce.
Plan out meals
This is a key factor in creating good habits with meals and food choices. Let’s say you’re a youth athlete with a weekend tournament, and for two days, you find yourself outside in the heat for hours.
You don’t want to be unprepared, do you?
Eating high trans-fat, saturated, junk food will not sustain energy throughout the tournament.
Meal preparation is the key—pack lots of snacks and hydration essentials.
Goal: Eat 4-9 servings of vegetables per day
Once you have variety down with fruits and vegetables now, it’s time to amp up the frequency of eating them.
Hydrate your body with water and electrolytes
Our bodies are made up of 60 to 80% water, so why wouldn’t you sustain that by hydrating the body?
No sugary drinks, just water.
Get used to drinking it and develop a habit; maybe set the alarm or get a sturdy refillable water bottle.
Let’s go back to the example stated above for the youth athlete at a weekend tournament. It is scorching, and the athlete is losing a lot of fluids sweating. Water is not going to do enough here, this is where electrolytes are beneficial, and no, I am not talking about Gatorade.
The body needs minerals, sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc. I believe coconut water does the trick; bananas are beneficial, pink Himalayan salt, Pedialyte, and such all help balance out fluids and electrolytes in the body.
Choose quality foods and cook with spices and herbs.
Shop local, seasonal produce, minimally processed foods, grass-fed and antibiotic-free meats.
Now when cooking with spices and herbs, they help bring out the bioavailability of the food to provide more nourishment and healing to the body.
For example, when turmeric is paired with black pepper, the bioavailability of turmeric is that much more powerful for its anti-inflammatory properties. Rosemary pairs well with red meats and some poultry, which also provides healing properties. It can enhance brain function and mental clarity.
Enjoy what you nourish the body with
When a person doesn’t enjoy the food they are eating, it doesn’t motivate them to continue to eat “healthy.”
Teaching the kids to eat well and be healthy at a young age is important because it develops positive and beneficial lifestyle habits. They understand the why behind eating healthy, they genuinely enjoy it, and it will optimize performance.
Let’s discuss how to read foods labels and marketing ploys. It is very important to learn how to read and interpret food labels, especially if you are buying foods that primarily have labels.
The main reasoning is because there is hidden terminology for sugar and chemicals in most labeled foods. Marketing and food ploys are to thank for this. Anything that is mass-produced you can take a good guess there are hidden sugars and chemicals in them.
Rule of thumb, shop mostly produces and minimal food with labels; if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, that is fair reason to put it down. Shop for foods with five ingredients or less, if the first three ingredients have sugar listed, put it down.
Hidden names for sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Ethyl maltol
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High fructose corn syrup
…..and the list goes on
You are what you eat; make sure you fuel the machine-like body properly and listen to it; everyone is different. Be in tune with what makes you feel energized and what makes you feel sluggish.
The importance of hydration is something that should always be noted. It is unfortunate how the school system doesn’t provide the care or knowledge to cater to the health and hydration needs of the kids throughout a school day.
Youth athletes will get past the point of dehydration by the time practice time rolls around. Then the athlete must perform and sustain energy throughout practice. Body water in humans varies with age and sex; about 45-50% of body weight in females is water, and males generally have more lean muscle mass; body water is around 50-60%.
When kids become dehydrated their energy level decreases and the risk for injury increases; with an increase in sports playing time and an on-the-go lifestyle, we must create good hydration habits at an early age.
For moderate-intense activity for under two hours, focus on consuming 1-2 cups 30-60 minutes prior to activity, 2-4 cups during activity, 2-4 cups after activity, and 1-2 cups per meal. Create good habits now, so it becomes automatic.
As a parent or coach of a youth athlete, how can you implement healthy eating habits?
It starts with you, you must create an environment of learning about healthy eating habits and foods that benefit a healthy lifestyle. Kids learn from the home, make it a family adventure and create this healthy lifestyle journey together.
Get in the kitchen, learn to cook, find foods that are part of your nationality and culture. Stand your ground in the supermarket; kids are drawn to marketing ploys; once in a blue moon, sure a treat is fine but doesn’t make it a habit.
Teach the kids that eating healthy balanced foods will help with their sport and grow to be strong. Have fun with food and recipes; cooking is 50% of the battle.
The CDC stated, almost 45% of the population has at least one chronic disease, and 75% of all health care costs go to treat these conditions.
What are some preventive measures that we have control of?
Exercise and daily movement, nourishing the body with whole fresh foods, hydrate, rest and recovery, sleep and do things you enjoy. Your body will thank you.