Youth sports are an important setting to promote not only physical activity and sports skills, but also positive dietary habits. Food, after all, is fuel, and while training is important, performance actually starts with good nutrition.
Unfortunately, today we live in a food carnival with abundant food choices, many of which are tempting but nutrient-poor. Young athletes (like all of us) like foods that taste yummy! Let’s take a look at what most youth athletes are eating at sports events. A study done in Minnesota (1) reports that youth athletes tend to eat:
• “kid friendly” food that is readily available at the concession stands.
• prepackaged convenience foods, which tend to be high in sugar, salt and/or fat and low in nutritional value. Popularly consumed items include:
Sports drinks, soda, juice drinks
Candy, ice cream, donuts
Chips, cheese puffs, nachos
Pizza, not dogs, taco-in-a-bag
McDonald’s Dairy Queen
An Australian study (2) titled “Double standards for community sports: promoting healthy lifestyles but unhealthy diets” reported the foods most commonly purchased by young athletes at the concession stands were:
soft drinks, sports drinks
Parents vary widely in their attitude towards the consumption of so called “junk foods” served in conjunction with sports events. Some parents—
• are adamantly against unhealthy snacks.
• see the snacks as occasional treats that the kids rarely eat at home.
• rationalize it’s OK for their kids to eat nutrient-poor snacks because their kids are healthy, normal weight, and they “burn it off.”
• allow only healthy foods before, during, or in-between games, but they then allow treats afterwards, as a reward for having worked hard or won an event.
Is this a missed opportunity to educate our children about fueling their bodies for performance as well as health? We encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle, but what about a healthy diet? Is it time to make it “cool to fuel healthfully”? (3)
Food for thought,
(1) Thomas M, Nelson T, Harwood E, Neumark-Sztainer D. Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport, J Nutr Ed 44(4):365-371, 2012
(2) Kelly B, Chapman K, King L, Hardy L, Farrell L. Double standards for community sports: promoting active lifestyles but unhealthy diets. Health Promot J Austr. 2008 Dec;19(3):226-8.
(3) Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Perry C, Casey MA. Factors influencing food choices of adolescents: findings from focus-group discussions with adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 1999 Aug;99(8):929-37.