SPORTS NUTRITION: PROTECT YOUR ATHLETE
HEY SPORTS PARENTS! GOT A QUESTION FOR YOU.
Would you ever send your football player out onto the field without a helmet or allow your young daughter out behind the plate to catch a 60 mile per hour pitch without her mask and chest protector? No, of course, you wouldn’t. Unthinkable. Not even an option. They need that protective gear to keep them safe.
So making sure they have the best gear to keep them physically safe is high on the priority list, right? But what about making sure they have the best nutritional gear they need to keep them safe on the inside too?
What we need to recognize and talk about here is that proper nutrition isn’t just about eating healthy, it’s about fueling our child’s performance and giving their body the protection it needs to run optimally from the inside out.
No matter what level of participation your child is at right now, whether they are playing in high school with the anticipation of playing in college or will just continue to be active on their own either way, exercise is exercise. And the fact remains that exercise does things to the body we need to be attentive to and take steps to understand.
SO WHAT IS HAPPENING INSIDE YOUR ATHLETE’S BODY?
Ultimately any activity we do has this whole scientific thing going on inside us (that we don’t even feel) called oxidative stress and free radical production. It happens during any type of activity. The more activity, the more oxygen is taken in, and the more damage that can happen when free radicals “get loose” inside the body.
The good news is there are great ways, really powerful and impactful ways, to make sure those free radicals don’t get to cause damage. If your child is playing sports, they need to be protected and you won’t find any piece of equipment at your local sporting goods store to do the job. You find it on the end of their fork.
Here’s the deal. Your athletic child NEEDS specific things (and they may not be the things that you are focusing on right now in your own health journey). For example, what your child needs throughout the day to fuel their activities may not be the same needs you have if you are sitting at a desk at work all day.
Information (and misinformation) is at our fingertips. We can get caught up in a culture obsessed with fad diets and the-next-best-thing. We can get lost in the endless information and then pulled away from what our athletic child really needs. If our focus as adults is on weight loss or eating for convenience where does that leave our meal plans, how we shop, and what’s stocked in our cabinets and fridge?
And if you’re super busy (and what sports parent isn’t?) the default may be convenient foods, packaged and processed and ready to go. These foods are not necessarily the best choice for an athlete who needs whole, real foods packed with nutrients.
WHERE DO I START?
If you are feeling there might be a gap, don’t panic. There is always a solution. You’ve started the process by understanding what oxidative stress is and what it’s doing inside your athlete’s body (and your body too). So now is a good time to move into action!
Meal time is where the magic happens if there is a plan in place. You don’t have to resort to “desperate dining” (that’s what we call it in our house) if you prepare ahead.
Oh, I think I just heard you groan. Don’t worry it won’t be painful. You will be taking one simple step at a time. Throwing out your entire pantry is not part of the plan. This will be a transition and not a coup d’état of your kitchen.
HOW DO I GET MY ATHLETE AND FAMILY ON BOARD?
So how do you get your child engaged and excited about this? How do you get this integrated into your family life? Here’s a very simple way you can talk about that important process of oxidative stress and free radicals to your athletes to get them thinking about what is happening on the inside.
Have your athlete imagine they are practicing for their sport. As they increase intensity, work harder and heat up, it’s kind of like a fire burning in a fireplace. As the fire burns hotter, little embers (or free radicals) jump from the fire and if there is nothing to stop those embers, they will burn a hole in whatever is closest, most likely the carpet out in front.
Now ask them how they can stop those little embers from reaching the carpet? By putting up a fireplace screen, right! The equivalent of the fireplace screen to protect their bodies is the food they eat! A diet rich in whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables for protection!
Now the fun begins! You can talk about the importance of your active child being both physically fit AND nutritionally fit and why they are equally important!
Remember how we started this whole conversation. We talked about providing your athlete with the right protective gear to keep them safe during their activity. Just as their body needs to be protected on the outside, their inside needs to be protected in very specific ways too. Now that you understand and embrace this concept you are well on your way to helping your athlete today and more importantly for a lifetime!
Give yourself a high five!
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