Young athletes have different nutrition needs compared to adult athletes. This is because young athletes experience much different maturation, developmental and learning style changes that require special nutrition that is rich in certain foods. It is therefore important for coaches of young athletes and parents to be informed about the importance of good nutrition. Young athletes are constantly undergoing different body changes thus they should eat foods that cater to both the development changes and energy requirements during training and actual athletics.
Below are five useful sports nutrition tips for young athletes that should always be considered.
- Knowledge base. Depending on the age of your young athlete and their upbringing he/she may have an idea of the basic knowledge of nutrition. It is therefore important to first assess the knowledge base of your athlete before trying to educate them. After you have assessed the knowledge base, you can then teach simple basics classification of nutrients using interesting means i.e. food pyramid.
- KISS – Keep it Simple Simon – Simplicity. This is also a very important tip because young athletes tend to shy away from complicated information regarding anything. You should always avoid using concrete words such as calories, antioxidants, monosaccharide and the like. Instead, keep the nutrition subject as simple as possible. For example, you should just teach the basics of each and every food type and the importance of that food type during training/sports. This is enough to create the necessary link between eating healthy and performing better in sports. Once the young athletes get to high school, they can then learn more complex nutrition there.
- Repetition is the Mother of Skill – Repeat the teaching process. Repetition of the teaching process is very important because children at a young age learn best through repetition. To ensure that your young athlete understands basic nutrition principles, you as a coach/parent should constantly reinforce the sports and nutrition messages by actions such as; serving healthy drinks after training e.t.c. This way your young athlete will associate sports with good nutrition.
- Be a Role Model – Serve as an example. After you have taught your young athlete about being healthy, you should serve as an example. Young people learn best from example thus if you are a role model in terms of eating habits and food choices, then you are bound to influence your young athletes to develop similar nutrition habits. If you want your young athletes to include more vegetables and fruits in their diet, then you will have to lead by example.
- Be Flexible –Don’t be too strict. Lastly, it is important to note that Kids whether athletes or not will fail to follow a given healthy diet at one time or the other. This is also the case with adults who are trying to diet. As much you may place emphasis on eating healthy foods, you should not be too strict. You should allow occasional snacks among other things that kids like to make nutrition a fun subject.
In summary, nutrition should be taught at a very young age to ensure that kids develop a healthy relationship with healthy foods. It is important to note that the association and image of foods are more important than the actual nutrition.