Recently the Health Talk crew had our eyes opened to a story about Justin Morneau, the Minnesota Twin’s baseball player who captured headlines for making healthier decisions at home plate. Er, the plate at home.
After four surgeries and a season-ending concussion in 2011, Morneau made the move to eliminate gluten, dairy products and sugar from his diet in hopes of staying healthier. Many people saw his choice as a step in the right direction in terms of people talking with their health care providers about nutritional decisions that could positively impact their lives.
“Professional athletes can be excellent role models for youth,” said Michelle Parke, a registered dietitian in the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing and a researcher working with the Healthy Youth Sports Study(HYSS). “We often see professionals promoting sports drinks, why not healthful eating?”
Parke went on to explain that adequate nutrition is important for all athletes to perform their best, but for youth athletes adequate nutrition is also important for growth and development. Based on research from the HYSS she shared some nutritional barriers faced by today’s youth.
Busy family schedules. There is little time for a sit-down family meal. Instead, meals consist of convenience foods that are typically fast food, sweetened beverages and other foods high in calories and low in nutrients.
Concession stands. At Youth sporting events it is difficult to make healthy food choices with limited options. Many youth athletes receive “treats” after a practice or game that rarely consist of healthful foods.
Calories actually burned. Maybe the biggest shock, youth do not burn as many calories as one might think. Much of the time at tournaments is spent on the bench or waiting around between games. This combined with the fast food options often leaves these athletes at a calorie surplus.
In terms of the dietary decisions recently made by Morneau, Parke was complimentary of his decision to better control what he will eat and what kinds of foods his nutritional team felt he should avoid.
“It would be fantastic to see professionals promoting more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, water and exercise,” said Michelle Parke. “Professional athletes could help young athletes make the healthy choice be the easy choice.”
Want to learn more about how youth athletes can make healthy choices about food? Check out the HYSS website here.
The Healthy Youth Sports Study was designed to investigate the relationship between youth sport participation and obesity prevention strategies. Participation in youth sport is recommended for increasing physical activity, but little research exists on whether sport can promote energy balance or prevent obesity.