Southeast Education Network requested our input on how nutrition impacts a students fitness.
By Dr. Keith Kantor
Nutrition is the secret weapon to optimal fitness in students. Those who follow a balanced diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, heart healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and high quality protein, naturally thrive in their fitness activities. The obesity epidemic that is taking over the rising generation is not only physically harming them by increasing their risk for chronic disease like type 2 Diabetes, and hypertension, obese children are also suffering emotionally from low self-esteem and depression.
In this high tech world, necessary activities such as gym class and playing outside are disregarded for video games and computer time. Cheap and convenient fast food and sugary snacks are abundant at school and home. Living a fast food, gadget filled lifestyle decreases energy levels resulting in lack of motivation. Metabolically, the insulin fluctuations from consuming processed flours and sugars regularly promotes fat storage/ weight gain and overall inflammation. This metabolic catastrophe only increases cravings for sugar and decreases overall energy, resulting in a reduced ability to focus and perform in fitness related activities.
Hydration is also a key component to a healthy and fit students daily regimen. Consuming at least half their body weight in ounces of hydroxide rich water is optimal. The reason I recommend hydroxide water is because inflammation is a huge problem in America for almost all people and even more so for those that work out. Most Americans have a diet that is too acidic (like sugary foods and drinks). Too much acid in our diet causes acidosis, which almost all studies say causes inflammation. The CDC says inflammation adversely affects up to 85% of all chronic diseases. Acid comes from the H+ ion. Hydroxide water is natural and has a large number of hydroxide ions (OH-). These hydroxide ions will combine with the H+ ion and form simple neutral water. The body will then utilize the water in metabolic activities or excrete it out through urination or sweating. The hydroxide ion (OH-) is a natural H+ hunter, since it wants to form back into water. It will find free H+ (which are rare) ions to combine with, take the H+ ion away from acids like lactic acid, which is very helpful for those working out. It will even decrease the soreness one gets when starting to work out, adding to their workout or increasing the intensity of the workout. This helps encourage working out and exercising. It will also take the H+ ion away from H3o which is very common in aqueous solutions and the main culprit causing acidity and inflammation. Sports drinks, diet drinks, sodas and juices are NOT part of a healthy hydration plan. The excess sugar, sodium, artificial dyes and sweeteners in these drinks will only contribute to a poor insulin response. Avoid artificial sweeteners (except stevia), they still can encourage the pancreas to secrete insulin even if there are no calories. The less chemicals the better in all drinks, meals and snacks.
It is recommended to have 1-2 cups of water before physical activity and 1/-1/2 c every 15-30 minutes of activity.
There are simple ways to use nutrition as a strategy of promoting regular fitness activities. As always it starts with the parents; be a healthy role model. Incorporate daily exercise and healthy meals into your schedule too. The time you spend with your kids will be higher quality because you will have extra energy from daily exercise.
Children are extremely observant, especially of their parents. Refrain from incorporating post dinner dessert; instead, play a game of cards or go for a walk. Eating should be fun, so ask your kids to help you pick out colorful fruits and vegetables at the store. Have them spend quality time cooking up a new healthy recipe with you or planning out your family’s meals and snacks. Make sure you provide a healthy breakfast rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats. Studies have shown that kids who eat a balanced breakfast focus better at school and their fitness related activities.
Try not to subject your child to fad diets. Children do not need to think about counting calories, fiber, or fat grams. Most importantly they do not need to eliminate treats. If you put a ban on the not-so-healthy stuff your child may start sneaking food, binging when they are home alone or gravitating to junk food when they eat out. Give your children the knowledge to make healthy choices. Focus on what they need to eat every day rather then what they should avoid. Aiming to eat 3 servings of fruit, 6 servings of vegetables, protein, fiber rich grains, and healthy fats at each meal and they will not feel deprived and will only miss their “old ways” for a brief adjustment period of time.
If this is overwhelming for you as a parent, look for a credible healthcare professional, not one who promotes fad diets. Get with a Registered Dietitian who has worked with children to establish a healthy grocery list and a family meal plan. Enroll your child into a kid’s fitness class or after school sport to encourage routine and structure. There are excellent books and credible articles that can help you transform your family’s lifestyle into a healthier one.
Healthy Tips for Your Child’s Health:
- Limit TV time. Allow your children to only watch TV or play video games for 1-2 hours per day.
- Encourage them to play outside or exercise with you regularly. Do a push up, squat or plank challenge daily for healthy family competition and unity.
- Pull the old “switch-a-roo.” Swap out processed snacks for whole foods like nuts, nut butters, chopped fruits, vegetables, homemade nutrition bars, etc.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with disease fighting antioxidants and they are very low in calories.
- Avoid juice and soda. Juice and soda are packed with sugar. Instead of apple juice provide an apple. The calories will be cut in half and they will get more fiber.
An example of meals and snacks for a child could be as follows.
Protein shake- 1 c unsweetened almond milk, 1 c Greek yogurt, 1 cup chopped fruit, 1 handful fresh spinach (they will not taste the spinach).
Almond butter toast- 2 slices high fiber whole grain toast with 1-2 Tbsp. almond butter, drizzle of honey and sliced bananas or berries.
Homemade Trail mix- whole grain cereal, dried fruit and heart healthy nuts
Lunch- Turkey (nitrate free) sandwich on whole grain high fiber bread, with veggies on sandwich, 1 apple, ¼ c guacamole and baby carrots/ celery/ cucumbers
Homemade nutrition bar
Veggies and hummus
Turkey (nitrate free) burger with sweet potato fries and roasted green beans
1-2 ounces of dark chocolate or 1-2 c air popped popcorn
Your child should never feel restricted in their daily nutrition, if they complain about feeling hungry increase portion sizes and/or incorporate another snack, especially on fitness activity days when they are up early. Ask your child how they feel throughout the day, they should never feel dizzy or have an extremely hard time focusing, as it is related to nutrition and hydration.