Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can help athletes of all ages improve performance. Family and parents have a strong influence on what their young athletes are eating, especially during early adolescence. As teens get older, they begin to make more decisions on their own about their eating patterns. However, parents are still often the ones doing the grocery shopping and/or cooking, which influences their child’s food choices. Not only can parents help their athletes improve their athletic performance, but they also can help set a foundation for nutrition throughout their lifespan. Below are some ideas to help you best support your athlete’s nutrition and performance!

Tips to Improve Nutrition for the Family

Encourage Breakfast

 

You have probably heard that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” While this may not necessarily be true (because all meals are important!), breakfast is one that is oftentimes skipped, especially by busy teens and adolescents. This age group is quick to sacrifice breakfast for a few extra hours of sleep.

One study showed that 30% of young people report skipping breakfast, and over 50% of people show inadequate or unbalanced breakfast patterns (such as only eating one food group).

However, regular consumption of a nutritious breakfast is associated with benefits such as higher cognitive performance, better intake of macro and micronutrients, and better physical performance for early morning workouts.

Having quick and easy breakfast options available, and encouraging multiple food groups can be helpful.

Combine different food groups to help with energy levels and satiety. For example, think carbs + protein + fats. (ex. Instead of having 2 bowls of cereal, try having 1 bowl of cereal + Greek yogurt or scrambled eggs to boost protein content).

 

 Breakfast ideas:

  • Overnight oats or oatmeal packets (Kodiak Cakes oats are a great option for increased protein)
  • Kodiak Cakes frozen waffles
  • Greek yogurt + granola + fruit
  • Egg muffins or hard boiled eggs paired with avocado/PB toast

Help them Pack a Lunch

If kids are often skipping breakfast for more sleep, they likely aren’t packing their lunch in the morning either. However, putting together a lunch with your athlete the night before can be helpful in setting them up for success. This may look a little different right now (thanks COVID!), but even if your athlete isn’t going to school in person, prepping ahead of time is still going to increase the likelihood of them choosing a nutrient-dense lunch. 

Simple lunch ideas:

  • PBJ + fruit + milk
  • Turkey/ham and cheese sandwich (or wrap) + fruit or veggies and dip
  • Leftovers from the night before
  • Homemade lunchable (deli meat, cheese, whole wheat crackers, carrots/celery/cucumbers, nuts, grapes/berries/apples)
  • Crockpot meals (chili, shredded chicken, burrito bowl, etc.)

Stock a Balanced Pantry

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be an all or nothing mentality. You don’t need to cut out your favorite foods or treats – it’s all about balance. You can still keep all your favorite foods in stock, but add some nutritious foods to help create a balanced pantry!

  • Whole grain bread/crackers
  • Trail mix/nuts 
  • Pasta – try chickpea or whole wheat! 
  • Tuna packets
  • Canned tuna/chicken
  • Whole grain rice/quinoa 
  • Oatmeal/whole grain cereals  
  • Flas/chia seeds – great nutrient-dense ingredients to add to a smoothie or oatmeal! 
  • Granola/protein bars – Nature Valley, KIND bars, RX bars
  • Steamerbag rice packets
  • Freezer ideas
    • Frozen entrees (aim for ~600 mg or less of sodium) – Lean Cuisine Power Bowls, frozen breakfast burritos, Evol meals, etc.
    • Frozen fruit 
    • Steamer bag veggies 
    • Morning Star high protein veggie burgers 
    • Birdseye protein blends
    • Frozen turkey meatballs or turkey burgers

Quick & Easy Snacks

Snacking can often get a bad rap, but it’s important for athletes to eat around every three hours. Energy needs are high for athletes, and snacks can help them get enough of the calories and micronutrients they need throughout the day. They also can be strategically placed 30 minutes – 1 hour before and after their workouts for optimal energy and recovery!

For instance, pairing a source of carbohydrates with protein and/or fat can help sustain energy levels. Here are a few quick and easy examples: 

  • Yogurt + fruit + granola
  • Banana or apple + PB
  • Oatmeal energy bites
  • Granola/protein bars
  • Veggies and greek yogurt dip
  • Crackers + deli meat + cheese

Click here for more tips on how to build a healthy snack!

Sneak in Some Veggies!

As I am sure you’ve heard before, veggies are packed with vitamins and minerals that are important for optimal health! Likewise, they also help support athletic performance through their role in energy production, bone health, immune function, injury prevention, and protein synthesis for recovery!

In 2017, only 2% of high school students were meeting the USDA recommendations for vegetable intake. If your children are picky eaters or not a big fan of vegetables, here are some easy ways to sneak them in:

 

  • Spinach in smoothies
  • Peppers/spinach in egg scramble
  • Add veggies to soups or pasta dishes 
  • Add a dip –  ex. Greek yogurt ranch dip or hummus 
  • Sauces – add pureed spinach, cauliflower, zucchini
  • Add veggies to pizza

Balanced Plate

If you haven’t seen MyPlate, it is a great visual representation of what a healthy diet consists of. The picture below shows the plate, along with some food suggestions from each category!

One thing to note is that although this is a great visual, meals often don’t have every food group.

For instance, focusing on having a grain/starchy vegetable + non starchy vegetables + lean protein for meals, and incorporating fruits into snacks is one way to help simplify the plate.