Sport | Columnists
Sean Van Staden
There is no question that good nutrition is part of any great athlete’s training regime.
But coaches of today are only too aware that they are sometimes fighting a losing battle when their young players are away from their watchful eye and open to the temptations faced by the barrage of junk food offerings available to them.
Even top level academy kids are susceptible to such temptations when not “in the camp”.
The main two main problems with junk food is that it is cheap and freely available.
Good, nutritious food costs money and when you have a hungry child between training sessions they will fill their tummies with nearly anything.
This article will try and determine whether coaches can fight win the war against junk food?
I believe they can and I give three ways to try to do it, beginning with the old adage “if you can’t beat them join them!” .
The case for junk food
One way to make sure the team will rebel and sneak off at every chance to get junk food is to outlaw it completely.
Use it occasionally as a treat.
Just be aware though that there are very few positive attributes in junk food in general and it’s mostly processed, chemically based bad carbs which generate sugar and a number of other negative nutritional elements.
On the positive side, in a maze of mostly negative research, I did come across a couple of articles that espouse some benefits of junk food.
Health food and heavy living blogging influencer Mike Samuels says: “Your body can’t tell food quality. It knows when you’re eating protein, carbohydrate and fat and it recognises and uses vitamins and minerals.
“The body doesn’t know whether these macro and micronutrients are coming from bread or sweet potato, or whether you’re eating an apple or an apple pie Quest bar.”
Obviously he cautions against “Pop Tarts, sandwiches and cookies” – once again indicative of bad carbs and sugar.
Nutritionist Nancy Clark says: “While foods with little nutritional value fail to invest in a soccer player’s well-being and ability to withstand the demands of rigorous training, occasional “junk food” does not ruin health when eaten in moderation. You can indeed have an excellent diet without having a perfect diet.”
So how much junk food is okay to eat?
Clark says “a healthful sports diet can target 85 to 90% of calories from quality foods and 10 to 15% from whatever.’’
My advice to the coaches is to try to temper the ‘whatever’.
Instead of banning junk food outright, rather recommend roast chicken and rice from Nandos as opposed to fried chicken and chips.
Or a steak and salad from Steers as opposed to a greasy burger in a white bread bun.
TIPS ON AVOIDANCE
Instead of just admonishing your players, rather try to help them to avoid eating junk food. There are many articles on how to do this, but in essence making sure they are not hungry and replacing bad with good is the key.
Here is just a handful of ideas:
1. Drink a lot of water
It is a good replacement for hunger and other sugary drinks. Even fruit juice has way too much sugar.
2. Eat fun fats
Instead of that greasy burger or bacon, eat a lot of nuts and avos and use olive oil on salad instead of mayo.
3. Snack all the time
A banana, granola bars and even a chocolate bar (preferably dark) are full of potassium, whole grains and antioxidants respectively.
4. Eat protein
Protein – especially good protein like steak, chicken and fish – are filling and great for building muscle. Just opt for lean instead of mean.
Eaten in moderation, fruit is a great filler, but don’t overdo it. Fruit juice has to be watered down or avoided – go for berries, apples and bananas.
One way to tell a future champion is to see how they respond to the habits of their great role models. Rather than tell
them how bad junk food is, inspire them with info about their heroes’ nutritional habits.
Goal.com talks about the eating habits of football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
“A good workout must be combined with a good diet,” he says.
“I eat a high protein diet, with lots of wholegrain carbs, fruit and vegetables and avoid sugary foods.”
He particularly likes fish and his favourite dish is bacalhau a braz – a mixture of cod, onions, thinly sliced potatoes
and scrambled eggs.
Ronaldo says at restaurants he often orders steak and salad.
Importantly, he avoids cravings for junk food or large meals by drinking a lot of water and snacking several times a day.
Sean van Staden is a sport scientist. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanVStaden or visit advancedsp.co.za.
Last week’s column can be found here.
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