During Landen’s 6th grade year, age 11-12, he grew from 5’4″ to 6′ tall. This was exciting, but painful to his joints, and definitely required a lot of sleep and calories. Coincidently it was the exact same growth spurt I had at the same age. Feeding Landen healthy food and keeping an early bedtime was vital to his ability to grow so fast and not have to stop playing sports for a period of time.
If you are raising an athlete, it is important to teach him or her about what the body needs in order to grow, build muscle, recover from training, and compete at a high level. Of course it is not easy to try and convince our teenagers to not eat fast food, and telling them that they can’t will only make them want it more. Therefore, my advice is to begin teaching your children about good nutrition when they are young. I always made positive nutrition comments to reinforce good eating habits, such as: “I can see your muscles grow when you eat those veggies” to my young son, and “I bet you will have more energy during competition and recover faster by drinking lots of water or even coconut water”.
I also tried to model good eating habits by trying to get him to believe that top performing athletes do not eat a lot of sugar and fast food. When my son was growing so fast, we watched a news broadcast that showed what Michael Phelps had to eat in order to have the high nutritional calories needed to train and compete in the olympics. There was a time in high school AAU basketball when Landen was growing fast and training hard and trying to gain muscle weight. He could eat 8-10,000 calories a day. I told my son that I would do my best to provide healthy food for him if he would do his best to eat it. Everyday when he returned home from school or practice, I would have snacks he could munch on the minute he walked in the door, while he waited for dinner. These snacks would be things such as carrots, celery, sliced bell peppers, and hummus, or sliced apples and peanut butter, or cut up melons. I found that he was usually hungry when he walked in and if there were healthy snacks (fresh fruits and veggies) sitting there waiting for him, then he’d often try them and find that he liked eating them.
We often hear that carbo-loading is important before competition, but for top performance it’s also very important eat other foods that help you sustain energy to burn, build strength, and recover faster. Remember – carbohydrates turn to sugar and sports drinks and gels are often full of sugar, food color, and unnatural preservatives. You can increase your body’s ability to perform with food such as:
Quinoa – high in protein and easy to add to rice, soup, salads, or even eat as a side dish.
Berries – full of antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C, and E which protect you against free radicals that can be produced during physical exercise, and helps to preserve muscle strength.
Salmon – (without color added!) high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation that can make joints ache and decrease athletic performance.
Also bananas, nut butters, cruciferous vegetables – all good for your physical wellbeing.
It was a goal of mine to have very few boxed foods in our pantry. That way, eating foods full of sugar, salt and preservatives did not become a habit. In place of these types of snack foods I’d have trail mix or homemade oatmeal bars or protein balls available. Now you may think that this is too difficult but if you plan your menus and prep time, you can get these foods prepared and ready on the weekend, then have them available in small containers for daily consumption by your children and you. There are many great healthy recipes available online. It may mean changing the way you eat as well, but that’s just a bonus!
The trick is to never be caught in a situation where you do not have healthy food options and you end up justifying fast food or quick stop snacks. If you plan ahead, you can grab a container of fruits and veggies or protein balls out of the fridge, throw together a quick peanut butter or almond butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread, and a water or coconut water to bring with you for your young athlete to consume before or after sports when you’re driving and they are begging you to drive thru a fast food joint.
Now that Landen is training and competing at a such a high level, he takes his nutrition very seriously and has sought out information from the team nutritionist as well as professional athletes. Because of the positive nutrition influences he had when he was young, he is now more willing to follow good eating habits.