It’s National Nutrition Month, a time when the country and dietitians like myself, give homage to the power of nutrition. National Nutrition Month focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. As such, this year’s theme is Put Your Best Fork Forward.
In my experience, young swimmers usually have the physical activity habits in place, but may need a little work on the sound eating habits piece.
Young athletes may not appreciate the power of nutrition. While parents understand this, young swimmers often don’t realize until later in their athletic career that the food they eat is the fuel their body needs for peak performance.
Once they do, they see nutrition for what it is: a game changer.
I like to keep nutrition simple when it comes to nutrition for the young swimmer. Even simplified, sports nutrition can be confusing and overwhelming. From calorie needs to protein requirements for recovery, and everything in between, the scope of sports nutrition information is vast and ever-changing.
But, all the latest information means nothing if young athletes don’t have the foundation of healthy eating habits in place. In fact, building healthy eating habits during childhood and adolescence is just as important as the swimmer’s day-to-day food choices. Healthy eating habits are the foundation for any sports diet and athletes must get them established before they can take their performance nutrition to the next level.
For example, focusing on more protein intake or better quality protein choices won’t be very effective if a swimmer is eating erratically throughout the day.
In the spirit of National Nutrition Month and helping young swimmers put their best fork forward, I’ve created a nutrition manifesto. A manifesto is a public declaration of goals or intentions. In this nutrition manifesto, I want to help young swimmers stay focused on the important foundation of developing healthy eating habits that will support their performance while they grow and mature.
I will enjoy what I eat and pay attention to how my body feels during and after eating, which will help me stay in touch with my appetite.
I will strike a healthy balance with the foods that fuel my body and the foods I eat purely for taste and enjoyment.
I will be mindful of the quantities and types of foods I eat that don’t offer fuel for my exercising body.
I will eat 3 meals each day.
I will include all foods in my diet, as able, and avoid eating patterns that eliminate any food groups.
I will plan my food intake throughout the day, aiming to eat a meal or snack every three to four hours.
I won’t skip meals.
I won’t overload on snack foods.
I will try to eat a source of protein, fat or fiber with my snack to help my body feel satisfied afterward.
I won’t rely on overly processed foods.
I will prepare for my training sessions by eating a nutritious snack beforehand.
I will recover from long training sessions with a recovery snack that includes protein and carbs.
I will pay attention to my hydration status by drinking throughout the day, and checking my urine for adequate hydration.
I will investigate the safety and efficacy of any supplement I am interested in using, and I will consult with my coach or parents before using one.
I will get a good night’s sleep so my body can grow and recover from training.
During National Nutrition Month and beyond, I hope all young swimmers will take the opportunity to refocus their efforts on eating well for growth and performance and establishing the eating habits that make this an easy endeavor.