Breakfast For Teenage Athletes
Breakfast for Athletes and for teen athletes is hugely important. As you must be well aware, breakfast is the most important meal of the day for anybody and that holds true for those who want to lose weight as well. You may have come across a recent study highlighting the adverse effects of skipping breakfast done by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It concluded that skipping breakfast can be directly linked to excess weight gain in teenagers of both sexes. The same applies to adults.
Although at first it may seem strange that skipping a meal would cause weight gain, there are some obvious reasons why this occurs. By waiting until lunchtime to have your first meal of the day, this creates a very long window (roughly 12-15 hours) where no food intake occurs. This has an adverse effect on the metabolism, which slows down in response to what is basically a daily fast. The second reason is that most people make up for being hungry all morning by overeating later on. They are more likely to choose foods that have higher fat and sugar contents, whether they realize they are doing it or not. Combine the two factors, and it’s no suprise this eating pattern is leading to kids becoming overweight.
One out of every four teenagers skips breakfast on a regular basis. On top of the weight gain issue, this is an even more serious problem for a group that is still developing physically. Proper vitamin, mineral, and calorie intake is essential for healthy growth during these years. And when you factor in the extra caloric needs of active young athletes, skipping any meal makes it incredibly difficult to physically function at an optimal level.
Working in a middle school each and every day, along with training teenage athletes, has given me a good first-hand account of this situation. Kids list a variety of reasons why they skip breakfast. Some say they don’t feel like eating in the morning, others say it bothers their stomach during school, makes them tired, or that they just don’t have enough time. Although few actually say it, social pressure to avoid becoming fat is an underlying issue with many at this age, which is ironic in light of this new study.
For them these are all good reasons, and they don’t see how the value of breakfast outweights all of the downsides.
Re-Thinking Eating Times
Most kids are pretty reasonable when they are presented with a practical solution to their problems. If there was a way to solve the problems listed above, I believe most would see the value in a revised approach to eating around a school schedule.
Maybe it is time to stop pushing the idea of breakfast before school, and start pushing the idea of multiple smaller meals between morning and the end of the school day. This revised approach will address the caloric and vitamin needs, as well as to keep the metabolsim running efficiently. It will also curb the psychological need to overeat later in the evening.
A general guide would be to eat a smaller version of breakfast before leaving for school, a mid-morning snack, a regular lunch, and another snack right around the end of the school day.
What this does is space out two meals into four over about a nine hour window. None of the meals are particularly large, and addresses all of the concerns that I have heard most often.
First, it will require only minutes to eat the first meal before leaving the house. That minimizes the time issue. Second, by keeping the meals small it lessens the stress on the stomach. That is crucial when you consider that kids often have to sit in class for almost seven hours per day. Eating smaller meals also helps to avoid the sluggish feeling that often comes with a high caloric intake in a short period. And finally, this schedule will rev up the metabolism every two to three hours, which will keep bodyfat levels down over the long term.
Implementing the strategy
In order to change the habits of those who now skip breakfast, it will take a joint effort from the kids, parents, and schools. Kids are the ones who have to change their habits, and need to take responsibility for themselves. To help enlighten them a little, they should be made aware of the study we mentioned earlier. When presented with this alternative eating schedule, it will ultimately be up to them to choose whether they will follow it or not.
Parents must make the foods that fit best for each mini-meal readily available at all times, including many items that can be eaten on the go. Without the right, healthy food items, this plan will not work. Parents also would benefit from encouraging a healthy eating lifestyle, hopefully even modeling it, and provide any education on the subject that they can. Believe it or not, many teenagers actually listen to logic when they are truly the ones left with the final choice as to whether to use it or not.
And finally, schools systems can have a major effect on the eating patterns of their students. If it is not already allowed, students should be allowed to eat snacks in class at designated times (mid-morning, late in the day before practices, etc). Even better, some school employees could run a snack store that is only stocked with healthy items, such as fruit, cereal bars, healthy trail mix, water and juices. And despite the intesnse pressure to meet state testing standards, teachers and administrators should seek to find ways to educate students on healthy eating. Math and science classes would be the most logical areas where you can create standards-based lessons that integrate the concepts of proper vitamin and mineral intake, calorie control, and other basic nutrition concepts.
What foods to focus on at each meal
Although what someone eats mostly revolves around personal preference, there are some common sense basics that apply to many situations. What we suggest here are general guidelines, and not rigid rules that may prevent you from following a healthier eating plan. Remember that eating almost anything in the morning is better than nothing.
Meal #1 – This is the first meal after sleeping, and it should contain a decent amount of protein. Many positive events like muscle repair only occur when the body has protein readily available, and at this time of day it is always deficient. An omelette or tall glass of milk would be great, but even something simple like putting peanut butter on a bagel would do the trick. A bowl of healthy cereal with low-fat milk is also a great choice. Something to drink, like a glass of juice, is also quick and easy to add.
Meal #2 – This will usually be eaten during the school day, so it should be a small, on-the-go item or two. This would be a great time to add fruit to your diet. One or two pieces is ideal, depending on your calorie needs. Other items like protein bars, cereal bars, and healthy trail mix fit well, too.
Meal #3 – Lunchtime. Ideally, it would contain something like a sandwich with veggies, lean protein (chicken, turkey, lean roast beef), and whole-grain bread, plus a drink and/or fruit. Many kids are confined to the school lunch choices, which are often high in fat and sodium, and don’t fit in with a healthy eating plan. Unless your school has healthy alternatives in their cafeteria, you should bring a lunch from home.
Meal #4 – A small, on-the-go type snack. The timing of this meal should factor in any after-school physical activity. Give yourself about 60-90 minutes before starting practice (or a game) to digest this snack. This will likely prevent any stomach discomfort. Something like a Power Bar would be just enough to keep your appetite under control until dinner. This snack should be high in carbohydrates, especially if you need energy for a sport after school.
Throughout the day you should also be consuming water. Depending on your age, size, and activity level, either one or two 16. oz bottles should do. Use your own discretion, and make it a habit to have a water bottle with you throughout the school day.
Follow this with a healthy dinner later in the evening, and you have an outline for a healthy eating schedule. Late-night snacks will probably not even be a thought after consuming five meals, so you will naturally drop a poor habit that would otherwise keep you from being hungry when you wake up.
There will be some financial cost to obtaining the foods necessary in this schedule, but that should be offset by not having to stock up on unhealthy snacks around the house. This will require some preparation and a little planning, but the positives easily outweigh any initial inconveniences.
By following this sensible eating schedule you can expect to see many benefits over time. Energy levels, sport performance, appearance, and your overall health will all improve. Once you get over the initial switch it will become routine, and you’ll wonder why you ever skipped breakfast in the first place.
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