Whilst I am by no means a psychologist or expert on food behaviours, I think it is important to build a healthy relationship with food. The benefits of eating a balanced diet are well-known for both health and performance! Just one small step at a time to improve your nutrition could help massively. The younger you start to build this relationship, in my opinion, the better.
Build Strong Beliefs and Healthy Habits
Eating healthily doesn't have to mean drastic changes. One small improvement, such as adding a portion of fruit and veg per day, can go a long way. Receiving an educational message on healthy eating might not help on its own. Adding an incentive in addition to education might help improve food choices (List and Samek, 2015). This study offered simple prizes like pens, rubber ducks, and fruit keychains, although this involved an educational message and children having a prize taken away from them if they chose a 'less healthy' option (a cookie) and keeping it if they chose a 'healthy' option of dried fruit. Nonetheless, parents might be interested in this. If your child already gets little rewards for hard work at school, in sport, or in general, you could put a twist on this with nutrition, too! Further, adding incentives increased the number of children eating fruit and veg by 80% in one study and reduced waste by 33% (Just and Price, 2013).
It has been shown, in students, that if you view healthy eating as important you might be more likely to actually eat healthily (Ansari et al., 2015). In a different study, more healthy nutrition behaviour was consistently associated with better self-reported health and less health complaints (Ansari et al., 2015). Although these studies are from Finland, I think we can learn a thing or two from this!
Parents typically have lots of control and influence on what young athletes eat. Your habits and beliefs very important!
Tips for Nutrition Habits
- Prior Preparation for Performance - Tupperware, cool bags, water bottles can all help towards fantastic food and healthy hydration goals
- Add Healthy, Feel Healthy - Try to focus on adding more nutritious foods into your diet, beginning with...
- Start As You Mean To Go On - start with one step such as adding an extra portion of fruit and veg per day, then you can add extra 'super swaps' where you could swap a fizzy drink for a piece of fruit, which is an example of how you can...
- Set Goals - you could try making your goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time (SMART!) and set a short-, medium-, and long-term goal, meaning you should...
- Take Your Time - Don't worry if you planned on exercising and missed a session, or if you didn't hit your nutrition goal, just try not to repeatedly miss your target.
- Have A Strategy - Some strategies could help when unhealthy food around you. These could be: avoid temptation (e.g. avoid fast-food places), re-arrange your food environment to make it less tempting (e.g. put crisps out of reach when watching TV) or keeping yourself busy if you get hungry before dinner. When you feel like eating something unhealthy, take a moment to consider whether you really want it. These may help lower intake of unhealthy foods (De Vet et al., 2013) and you can swap for more nutritious foods.
Habits are powerful for adolescents, particularly with unhealthy snacking (de Vet et al., 2015) and sleep. Not to mention the importance of exercise. Healthy eating habits have been associated with better fitness (David et al., 2013), and fitness has been associated with doing better at school (Esteban-Cornejo et al., 2014). There is a theme here! Healthy nutrition habits can benefit your health and performance, give an advantage over your opponents by being more prepared, and impress your coaches and teammates by showing dedication! Add different, bright colours of fruit and veg, lean protein, and be prepared. Do the basics well to be one step ahead of the game!
As suggested by Birkenhead and Slater (2015), a well-planned nutrition strategy that includes the careful timing and selection of appropriate foods and fluids helps to maximize training adaptations and, thus, should be an integral part of the athlete’s training programme.
Guest Author: Liam Oliver, BSc Nutriton.
Birkenhead, K. L., & Slater, G. (2015). A review of factors influencing athletes’ food choices. Sports medicine, 45(11), 1511-1522.
David, T., Julien, A., Laurie, I., Nordine, L., Sébastien, R., Eric, D., ... & Pascale, D. (2013). Are eating habits associated with physical fitness in primary school children?. Eating behaviors, 14(1), 83-86.
de Vet, E., Stok, F. M., De Wit, J. B., & De Ridder, D. T. (2015). The habitual nature of unhealthy snacking: How powerful are habits in adolescence?. Appetite, 95, 182-187.
de Vet, E., de Wit, J. B., Luszczynska, A., Stok, F. M., Gaspar, T., Pratt, M., ... & de Ridder, D. T. (2013). Access to excess: how do adolescents deal with unhealthy foods in their environment?. The European Journal of Public Health, 23(5), 752-756.
Esteban-Cornejo, I., Tejero-González, C. M., Martinez-Gomez, D., Del-Campo, J., González-Galo, A., Padilla-Moledo, C., ... & Veiga, O. L. (2014). Independent and combined influence of the components of physical fitness on academic performance in youth. The journal of pediatrics, 165(2), 306-312.
Just, D. R., & Price, J. (2013). Using incentives to encourage healthy eating in children. Journal of Human Resources, 48(4), 855-872.List, J. A., & Samek, A. S. (2015). The behavioralist as nutritionist: leveraging behavioral economics to improve child food choice and consumption. Journal of health economics,