Junior Athletes and Nutrition; Better Talk to the Parents
With the growing degree of professionalism being expanded in sports aspects such as Nutrition are now commonplace in off court education sessions. Many programs invest significant monies into promoting good nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in addition to an athlete needing to compete. Nutritionist featured on most regular season payrolls within professional programs just the same as sports psychologists, team doctors, or administrators. However, when talking to junior athletes about nutrition, are they really the people making the choices about what is put on table for meals?
The simple answer is, no…
For junior athletes being included into meal decisions is something that mostly falls into the realms of their parents or guardians. Parents generally by the time an athlete is with their junior career in full swing has a well-rehearsed drill of preparing food for the family that fits with its busy schedule and that is good for everyone. The fantasy world of cooking separate means for individuals is given up many moons beforehand when children first start to be able to eat the same foods as their parents as toddlers. Most parents cannot wait for this day to arrive as it means less hassle and time spent in the kitchen and more time together.
So as a natural progression many junior athletes nutrition is based upon the habits of their parents more so than their own choosing. So if a program manager or coach wants to really hit a home run in regards to nutrition the athlete and their parents need to be involved right from the start.
So what are some of the key areas to focus on when discussing nutrition with parents? There are a few points to keep in mind and some of these include:
- Price; even adults need to be shown that good food does not necessarily mean expensive food
- Buy Local; the best price does not always go hand in hand with convenience. Many locally based fruit and vegetable stores provide very competitive prices while still maintaining quality in their produce
- Seasons; fruit and vegetables have seasons of availability. It is only through the purchasing of foods from a wide area and then transporting them that they become available all year round. It is best to try to have meals appropriate for these different seasons to allow access to freshest produce
- Correct Storage; a common complaint about fresh fruit and vegetables is the rate of spoil. By providing information to parents about how to store common items nutrition will improve as access in the home to these desired items becomes more common
- Menu Plans; helping parents to develop menu plans on a weekly or fortnightly basis will help with time management, reduce waste/costs, and ensure the most desirable nutritional items can be included into the menu
- Accessibility; one of the great secrets to having people enjoy more healthy foods is to make them more easy to eat, or accessible. Chopping up items that need to be chopped, helps people eat them as a quick option. Carrot or Celery sticks, fruit salad, and other pre prepared items make eating easier.
There are of course many other reasons why poor food choices are made. These can be as individual as the players within a team can. One strategy is to simply ask when holding a workshop on nutrition why parents find themselves making poor nutritional choices. By finding out what the barriers are, strategies and tips on how to overcome these commonly experiences issues can be given.
There are thousands of books and resources across the internet that highlights low preparation meals which means convenience for parents. By providing access to this information, a sport will be better served in trying to improve the nutrition of its athletes.