Chrissy Barth, MS, RD, BHT, RYT, is a registered dietitian, yoga teacher and communications expert in the field of holistic nutrition who is passionate about teaching others about optimal health and performance by taking the confusion out of nutrition. She is the founder and CEO of Live.Breathe.Nutrition., LLC, a nutrition coaching and consulting practice in Phoenix, Arizona, where she serves as a nutrition consultant to the Arizona Cardinals.
What can parents do to ensure their athletes are getting the right food when they are too busy for a sit-down dinner before practices/games?
Parents need to make sure that their children are fueling right at most meals and snacks not just at dinner. Many families are always on the go which makes dinner time challenging. Parents can have easy-to-prepare foods on hand consisting of the 3-Step Fueling Tactics Model by Dave Ellis, RD, consisting of the following…
Step 1: Fruits, Vegetables, and Healthy Unsaturated Fats
These foods are natural antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories consisting of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene. These foods lessen and prevent inflammation, optimize the immune system, increase energy, help speed recovery time, and decrease the risk of disease. Get color on your plate from a variety of fruits and veggies. Eat more of the good guy fats which include nuts and seeds, olive and canola oil, vinaigrette salad dressings, natural peanut butter, avocados, trans-fat free margarine spreads, lite mayonnaise, and cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, as well as flaxseeds and walnuts.
Step 2: Carbohydrates such as Fiber-Rich Starches and Fruits
Choose whole grains (e.g. whole wheat pasta, whole grain breads, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, and quinoa); starchy veggies (e.g. potatoes – white or sweet, corn, peas, and winter squash), beans, and fresh fruit – all of which are fiber-rich and slow digesting to help keep energy levels high. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for the body and brain. We need carbohydrates daily.
Step 3: Protein
Children should aim for a variety of protein sources from dairy, meats, and plant sources. Smart proteins include chicken breast without the skin, at least 93% lean ground beef, buffalo, sirloin, flank steak, turkey, fish, eggs, nuts and peanut butter, beans and lentils, and 1-2% fat dairy products. Protein is critical in building and maintaining muscle; strengthens the immune system, maintains energy levels, and is useful only when we eat enough carbohydrates. If young athletes are wanting to gain muscle, they need to make sure to meet their daily protein needs by eating protein at each meal and snack and obtaining the majority of their extra calories from carbohydrates while making sure to follow an appropriate and individualized resistance training program.
Some quick lunch and dinner examples may include:
*Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a piece of fruit and a glass of low-fat milk or yogurt.
*1-2 slices of veggie pizza with a banana on the side.
*Stir-frys consisting of rice, veggies and either steak, chicken, shrimp, or tofu.
*Leftovers consisting of Steps 1, 2, and 3.
*Turkey (or ham) and cheese wrap with lettuce, tomato, and avocado slices and a piece of fruit and yogurt or milk on the side.
*Breakfast for dinner consisting of scrambled eggs, an English muffin with butter and 100% fruit preserves, and a glass of milk or yogurt.
What kind of effects do energy drinks have on young athletes? What should players drink/eat instead if they need an energy-boost?
Keep in mind that energy drinks are not FDA-regulated and for this reason, we can’t always believe that what is written on the label in terms of ingredients and potency is 100% accurate. Your best bet is to first choose whole foods that offer vitamins and minerals in their most natural state. When young athletes are in need of an energy boost, make sure that they are following an optimal sports diet every day. When looking for a snack, young athletes should choose a snack that consists of a mix of lean protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Some of these examples include yogurt with granola; a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter or sunflower butter and a sliced banana on top; or a granola bar and a glass of low-fat milk. Staying well-hydrated is also key for maintaining energy levels.
How can the parents of a picky-eater ensure their child is getting the proper nutrition to perform athletically?
The answer to this question is found in my answer to question number one. In addition, some children lack variety in their diets where they seem to eat the same foods at every meal and snack due to personal preference and maybe pickiness. In these cases, I encourage young athletes to incorporate variety in at least one of their meals and one of their snacks every day. This can be as simple as subbing in a whole grain wrap in place of bread for a sandwich at lunch or trying a new fruit or vegetable with lunch or dinner. If your child isn’t a fruit and vegetables fan, try offering them dips for their fruits and veggies such as hummus, nut butters, salsa, or guacamole, and yogurt or nutella to dip fruit slices into.
Should youth athletes take any nutritional supplements? Are there any supplements they should avoid?
I always recommend choosing food first and supplement as needed. Foods provide us with vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) in their most natural state, which our bodies are best able to metabolize. The only supplements I would recommend for youth athletes would be a high quality, trusted daily multivitamin mineral meeting 100% of the daily value for most micronutrients as well as additional calcium and vitamin D as needed and omega-3 fatty acids as needed preferably from fish oil.
How can a youth athlete with food allergies (gluten, dairy, eggs, etc) ensure they are eating right when traveling for sports and options are limited?
A youth athlete with food allergies can ensure that they are eating right when on the road by eating a varied, balanced, and moderated sports nutrition meal plan. I always encourage athletes to prep and plan ahead of time by packing some of their tried and true favorites. It may also be beneficial to have a plan in terms of what restaurants to try that offer foods for those with food allergies. In this day and age, many restaurants accommodate those with food allergies including by offering gluten free menus.
What are your go-to snacks? Do you have any favorite kid-friendly snacks that are bound to be a hit with youth athletes?
A handful of my favorite go-to snacks typically include a combo of lean proteins with fiber-rich carbohydrates. Some of these examples include the following:
*Peanut butter and 100% fruit jelly on whole grain bread or a wrap (or sunflower butter for those with peanut allergies)
*Bars such as KIND, Luna Bars, and Clif Bars
*Homemade trail mix consisting of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dry whole grain cereal and/or whole wheat pretzels.
*Yogurt parfaits with berries, yogurt, and granola
*Instant oatmeal with mix-ins of your choice such as peanut or almond butter, chopped nuts, brown sugar, raisins, dark chocolate chips, and low-fat milk.
*Baked chips in individual snack size bags with string cheese
*Banana with nutella
*Low-fat pudding cups
*Peanut butter whole grain pretzels
*Smoothies made with low-fat milk or yogurt and fruit
What benefits could yoga provide to young children and youth athletes?
Yoga provides a myriad of benefits to young children and athletes including:
- Improved breathing
- Mind-body connection
- Mental focus
- Reduction of stress
- Increased flexibility and range of motion
- Improved balance, posture, and agility
- Physical strength