Article written by Annie Skidmore- BSc Sport & Exercise Science Student
Achieving a well-balanced diet can be hard especially for the picky youth athlete. However, below are some simple ways to help you get them to have a balanced approach to food and ensure they have a nutritious diet to fuel their athletic performance.
WHY IS A BALANCED DIET IMPORTANT?
A healthy diet is one where adequate intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fat along with essential vitamins and minerals are consumed to support the youth athlete’s performance demands, growth, development, metabolism, and physiological function . By having healthy dietary intake/patterns, low in saturated fat and added sugars it reduces your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even some cancers .
Therefore, it is essential to provide the youth athletes with a nutritious balanced approach to food intake.
10 WAYS TO CREATE A BALANCED DIET:
- GET YOUR 5-A-DAY IN: Try to have at least 1-2 portions of fruit or veg with each meal. Fruit smoothies or even snacking on fruit can help you achieve your 5 portions a day and get all the essential vitamins and minerals you need.
- CREATE YOUR OWN MEALS: Make your own versions of meals rather than buying store bought e.g., pasta dishes, chilli’s etc – this will be cheaper and can be enjoyed with all the family with extras frozen for another day!
- ALLOW YOURSELF ALL FOODS: Having this mentality will help you achieve a balanced diet. By not restricting yourself it allows you to listen to your cravings which means sometimes you will snack on fruit and other times chocolate – but this is essential to a balanced approach to food intake.
- MODERATION IS KEY: Allowing yourself all foods is key, but this needs to be done in moderation to achieve a balanced diet full of nutritious, tasty food to support your performance demands. Allowing yourself chocolate, sweet, and savoury foods is the start, but moderation is needed to help you meet other requirements e.g., protein, fruit and veg intake.
- TRY A NEW RECIPE: Each week try to select a recipe or meal you haven’t had before or in a while and get creative e.g., homemade fajita night! This makes mealtimes more enjoyable and encourages nutritious food intake for the athlete.
- HAVE FRUIT AS A SNACK: This will not only satisfy your hunger but will provide you with one of your 5 a day and won’t cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels!
- TRY NEW FOODS: Always fancied a specific recipe, international cuisine or even a ‘fake-away’ meal. Adding variety to your food will help keep youth athletes interested in food, adding enjoyment, and changing things.
- SWAP SUGARY FOODS FOR LOW SUGAR OPTIONS: Simply swapping your fizzy drinks for low sugar versions and using reduced sugar sauces will help maintain blood sugar levels and help to monitor and reduce sugar intake.
- INCREASE YOUR FIBRE CONTENT: This can be easily done by increasing your fruit and veg intake as well as consuming fibre cereal bars, wholegrain cereal and fortified products high in fibre. However, ensure you are drinking plenty to prevent digestive issues from increased fibre.
- ENSURE YOU ARE EATING ENOUGH PROTEIN: Adequate protein is required in the youth athlete to recover and build muscle to support their performance. Inadequate protein intake will cause muscle loss and poor recovery .
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