Parents of student athletes often find themselves in a balancing act of getting the kids to practice on time and making sure their grades and social lives don’t suffer because of their sport. But there’s one factor that might be getting overlooked: nutrition.
Dashing back and forth to practices and hitting the road for games could mean lots of trips to fast food restaurants or worse — skipping meals altogether.
We asked registered dietitian and personal trainer Megan Hovis with Upgrade Lifestyle Inc. how to know when we may need to see a dietitian for our student athlete, and for some nutrition plans we can use for our mini-sports stars (and ourselves).
HOW DO I KNOW MY STUDENT ATHLETE MAY NEED TO SEE A DIETITIAN?
Watch for behavioral changes, says Megan, who’s been working in the business for 11 years. If your middle schooler has no energy for soccer practice or seems to be having trouble concentrating at school, a poor diet could be to blame.
Megan said many high schoolers eat a tiny breakfast (or none at all) followed by a small lunch at school, and then come home ravenous. That spells trouble for blood sugar levels, which can cause behavioral and concentration issues as well.
You should also watch for bodily changes like weight loss. Student athletes are burning a huge amount of calories, and their diet needs to be packed with nutrients they’re using up on the field.
If your high school athlete is heading off to play at college soon, you might want to meet with a dietitian as well. Megan said many of her clients are college freshmen who need help transitioning to making healthy choices now that they’re buying food on their own (and navigating the health food minefield known as the dining hall).
Megan said in extreme cases, poor diet could cause injury, such as a stress fracture in a female lacrosse player who isn’t getting enough iron.
WHAT WILL A DIETITIAN DO FOR MY STUDENT ATHLETE?
In addition to determining the obvious — weight, height, sports played, issues, etc., — Megan starts by asking students all their dietary restrictions, allergies, likes and dislikes. There’s no point in creating a nutrition plan that includes eggs for breakfast if you kid won’t even touch them.
She also takes into account your family’s schedule and takes specific notes on how much your child is eating and drinking already.
Then she’ll look for “holes” or missing nutrients and create a nutrition plan with five-to-10 options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack.
“I start from scratch with every client,” she said. “It’s very individualized to them so they have some say in the plan.”
The plan will likely be applicable to the rest of the family as well, and may even inspire everyone to eat a little healthier.
“A change in student athlete’s nutrition can benefit the whole family,” Megan said.
She also provides dining out guides for those times you have to hit the drive-thru after practice or when the team bus pulls up at a fast food restaurant on the way to a game.
NUTRITION TIPS BY AGE FOR YOUR STUDENT ATHLETE
Middle school students need to focus on variety and balance of food groups. At this age, kids can learn healthy eating habits they’ll take with them into adulthood. Many school-age children tend to have too many empty calories in their diets. They taste good to the student, but are providing little nutrition value. Here are some good places to start:
• Get enough calcium into the diet to support proper growth. Foods such as yogurt, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, homemade smoothies and calcium-fortified foods are good options for young students.
Tip: Try to hit 1,300 mg of calcium per day.
• Eat the rainbow. It’s important to eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables to ensure that your student is taking in enough vitamins and minerals. If they stick to the same few foods (apples, baby carrots, etc.) they will still be missing out on other important nutrients.
Tip: Look for deep, dark color in the produce you purchase.
• Have a healthy relationship with food. Middle school is a critical age for preventing eating disorders and poor food habits. The more the parents can set a good example of well-balanced eating, the better it is for the student.
Tip: Stay away from words like “diet” and “good or bad” foods. Instead try and provide healthy balanced meals with treats in moderation.
According to the USDA, caloric intake per day for middle school boys is ~ 1,800 (for sedentary students) 2,200 (for moderately active) and up to 2,600 for very active students. Sedentary girls need ~1,400, moderately active students need ~1,800 and very active girls need up to 2,200.
Note: Every student athlete is different. The numbers above are general but each student has a certain set of needs based on height, weight, activity level etc. (that’s where a dietician can help you).
Nutrient needs vary drastically in teenagers depending on their gender, height, weight,and activity level
In general, most students need at least 1,500-2,000 calories per day. Very athletic students need 2, 000-3,000+ calories.
Carbohydrate intake: 5-7g per kg of body weight per day
Protein intake: 1.2-1.4g per kg of body weight per day
Fat intake: 20-30% of total daily calories (most coming from healthy unsaturated fat sources)High School
• Never skip breakfast. No matter how tired, late, or “not hungry” they are, there is no excuse to miss breakfast. It jump starts their metabolism and starts the engine running so you can be “on” for the rest of the day.
Two good examples: a bowl of low-sugar oatmeal with 1 tablespoon natural almond