A few of my younger 12 year old athletes showed up a bit early for their training session the other day, so we had some extra time to kill before we started.
They had both been complaining of feeling tired, sluggish, headaches, complaining of allergies or allergy-related symptoms, knees/feet ached, etc. Something you most likely should never, ever hear a young person describe how they are feeling (I realize sometimes allergies are uncontrollable, but I have some ideas and thoughts on that too).
I asked them one at a time exactly what they ate from the start of their day when they woke up, to the time they came in for training, and what they normally eat after training, dinner, and anything before bed.
What I heard was pretty shocking, but not surprising to me unfortunately. I’ll give you a very brief idea of what their diets were like…
– Breakfast was a rarity, and even if they did eat breakfast it was either cold, sugary cereal (i.e. frosted flakes, captain crunch, etc), or some sort of flour-filled “breakfast food” i.e. waffles or french toast with lots of syrup. No fruit, no protein, no nutritional value to any of these foods, just lots of sugary grains and processed, preserved foods. I asked them if they eat breakfast and they said sometimes yes, sometimes no, mainly because they wake up too late and don’t have time to eat anything before school. Moving on..
– Mid morning break or “milk break” usually consisted of either chips, soda, or cookies that are sold at school to these kids. This is usually around 10:15 AM. More sugary goodness in the early morning to fuel their day. Awesome.
– Lunch: depends, but sounds like it’s usually (again) processed garbage that is (re) heated up at school and given to the kids. I heard pizza, chicken nuggets, jello, ham sandwich, apple, and a little bit of water from 3 different kids.
– After lunch, usually nothing until they were done training at 3:30 or 4:30 PM. After training was over, they normally opt for some form of soda, chips (again), although I did hear chili to my surprise which is a pretty good choice considering all the other crap they ate all day.
– Dinner all depends on what mom and dad made up at home or if they went out to eat, so that varied.
– After dinner usually some more processed grain with lots of sugar or processed dairy with lots of sugar, i.e. ice cream, pastries, cookies, etc.
As you can clearly see, this is NOT good. I’m willing to bet most of the athletes who I speak to on a regular basis about this sort of thing still continue to let it go in one ear and out the other. Even my older high school kids are eating like this. As an 11 or 12 year old, you’re still learning on what’s right and wrong, but even then they’re getting to the age to make some logical decisions. High school kids have NO excuses and I’m not willing to give in or let them tell me that “they don’t have time”. I hear so many excuses day in and day out as to why they can’t gain weight, or why they aren’t getting stronger, or why they’re always sick/tired… THE PROOF IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
Look, this is not a joke to me. This shouldn’t be a joke to you. Part of training properly is eating to fuel the body optimally so you perform at your best. You won’t put low-grade gasoline in a high-performance sports car, right? Same goes for your body: give it high octane fuel and it will run like a sports car. Give it crap, you’ll feel like crap, constantly be sick/tired/injured, and never get to where you want to be.
I’ve even asked nearly every athlete to write down EXACTLY what they ate on a daily basis and bring it to me so we can go over it together and make changes.. How many have done it? TWO. And guess what? Those two athletes are KILLING IT; one kid has put on nearly 22 lbs of muscle in about 6 months and is dominating his age group. No coincidence at all right there.
This is not good, guys.. Not good. I want to see you take responsibility for your own actions and realize that YOU have to be held accountable when things aren’t going your way. I am taking part blame for this, as I haven’t fully implemented some good strategies for these kids. Yes, I do give everyone a handout and I expect them to take it seriously: look it over as many times as needed, write down any questions you may have, and bring it back. I don’t think that’s asking a lot, and I will gladly go out of my way for the ones who do the little things to get better and constantly seek out help to better themselves.
I also realize that the parents are involved as well, so we’ll need to communicate extremely well with parents about this topic as they’re the ones (most of the time) buying the food that’s in the house.
Stay tuned for Part 2 (this weekend) where I’ll lay out simple ideas for parents and athletes, give solid choices for kids to start using NOW, and a very basic template to follow. I’m also going to start having (free) mini seminars for all athletes that want to learn more about this type of thing and how proper eating can and will help your body perform at it’s best at all times! It’s time for a change!
Please leave your comments and thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to hear your questions, comments, and concerns about nutrition for young athletes. This is extremely important and cannot be ignored any longer!