Updated: Sep 16, 2021
It’s that time of year that we are in full swing … work, kids in school, activities have us hopping from one place to another after work and on weekends, and most of us are now favouring convenience and ease of access instead of healthier lifestyle options because of our ‘busy’.
While convenient and easy are, well, easy, they may be more trouble than they are worth! It’s so important, especially when we are so busy and active to focus on maintaining our healthy choices – no matter what.
And while the reasons for keeping up with your healthy lifestyle may seem obvious, I wanted to share some additional support for how eating the right foods will create focus, attention, speed, and overall performance in your athlete(s).
FOOD FOR FOCUS, ATTENTION, SPEED AND PERFORMANCE It is important to understand that children need a balance of nutrients to support brain and body function at a cellular level. And children that are also athletes need to consume more nutrients, including rich sources of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, dense proteins and healthy fats to ensure they perform and recovery optimally.
When too many simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes, sugary treats) are consumed they dys-regulate the ability of the brain to focus on the tasks at hand by disrupting the speed of signals from the brain to different parts of the body.
A diet high in simple sugars (think breads, pasta, baked goods) place an incredible load on the immune system and create acidity in the cells which promote sluggishness (seen as a lack of drive or attention to detail in their game, practice or even in school).
An acidic body is also a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses like, colds and flu. This is an important detail as highly active individuals are more susceptible to colds and flu as intense activity places a load on the immune system, when it works to recover from the physical stress of exertion.
If your athlete is having toast with jam for breakfast, mac and cheese or hotdogs for dinner or a donut as a snack, their brain and body will function much differently than a child who is fed toast with eggs, avocado and fruit, a smoothie or meat and vegetables for dinner. The latter foods are packed with healthy carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Proteins make up every single cell in our body and are responsible for building a healthy brain, bones structure, our various organ systems and lean muscle tissue. Ensuring you get plenty of protein daily is essential for our athletes. You can get many different sources from both animals and plants.
Proteins, makeup our cells, tissues, skin, bones…
As a Nutritionist, I like to see as roughly ¼ of your plate at lunch and dinner, around 3-3 1/2 ounces per meal come from protein sources.
Breakfast can be slightly less (1-2 eggs, 15-20 grams roughly)
Good Sources of Protein
Wild Caught Fish, Free Range Chicken, Grass Fed Beef, pork (if eaten), Eggs, Turkey, Duck, game meats (Venison, Bison, Elk)
What do Protein’s Do?
Help repair muscle tissue
Help keep your belly feeling full
Are involved in every cell process in the body
They are responsible for making you big and strong
Fats make up 65-70% of our brain tissue, are responsible for lining our nervous system, fueling the brain and aiding in our nerves signaling to every part of the body. Fats assist in satiety and help regulate our mood, support focus, memory, attention and cognition.
Balancing Carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well as minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium (to name a few) are essential for building and maintaining optimal health – especially when you are an athlete!
Contrary to popular belief, healthy fats DO NOT make you fat!
These babies are my favourite part of nutrition as they are a major part of maintaining and keeping a healthy body weight.
They cushion and protect our cells, ensure optimal transmission of various signals from the brain to our bodies and keep us feeling full.
Good Sources of Healthy Fats
Fatty Fish, Poultry, Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Oils (olive, avocado, coconut, ghee, almond), Eggs.
What Do Fats Do?
They provide us amazing energy
Keep Us Feeling Full Longer
Make our hormones and enzymes too
Regulate our mood, focus, attention, memory and ability to maintain crisp thoughts
Oh, but there’s a caveat!
The caveat that we have to be wary of with fats is to steer clear of rancid, processed, and broken chain fats – hydrogenated fats, trans fats, hydrolyzed, autolyzed – or modified fats are, present in almost every packaged and processed food on the market. When you are buying packaged foods, please make sure you are reading the ingredients labels as well as looking at the nutritional labels.
My rule of thumb…
If you cannot pronounce it don’t buy it
If it says modified, hydrolyzed, autolyzed, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated put it back
If you see it has added sugar (glucose, fructose, galactose, cane sugar, brown sugar, sugar put it back
There are good carbs and not-so-good and we need to focus on eating the GOOD carbs – fruits, veggies, and whole grains (if tolerated). Carbs are our primary source of energy and are responsible for creating our general cellular metabolism.
Vegetables should take up 1/2 of your plate at every meal.
Veggies: Approximately 1 -1 1/2 cups for children between the ages of 5-12 to ensure they are getting the maximum benefits from these foods.
Fruits: 1-2 maximum per day (as they can be high in dietary sugar) and ideally should be eaten away from other meals/foods. These are a terrific snack 30 mins before a practice, game or competition!
Whole Grains: Can be excellent options for supporting energy metabolism if there are no sensitivities or intolerances. They should be eaten in moderation, in their whole form (with the Germ), and I recommend you aim for 1-2 servings per day and no more than 1/4 – 1/2 cup cooked per meal.
Good Sources of good-for-you Carbohydrates…Vegetables, Fruits and Whole Grains!
Veggies: Cucumber, carrots, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, zucchini, beets, green or yellow beans, sweet potato, squash, peppers, celery, snap peas
Fruits: Blueberries, strawberries, apples, banana, oranges and pears
Whole Grains: Oats, Spelt, Wheat, Millet, Buckwheat, Bulgar Tip – cook these from scratch whenever possible and avoid breads which contain modified wheat added sugar or hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
As a busy mom, I understand how convenience and ease of access can make less than ideal food choices our go-to. But as a Nutritionist that has studied the impact of nutrition on athletes, and children athletes, I want to provide you with a framework for optimal health and performance for your kids.
Over the next few weeks I will continue to share information on this topic, as well as some recipes that will help you and your family eat for optimal health, with convenient options that are quick and easy to prepare!
” If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you…”