With summer tournaments having long since replaced family vacations for many sports parents, it's easy to get in a "vacation mindset" when it comes to nutrition, says registered dietitian, Tammy Beasley, RD, CSSD, LD, CEDRD, founder and creator of Rev It Up!.
At a recent travel baseball tournament in Nebraska, Beasley says, she overheard a mom complaining about eating too much from the concession stand, to which she heard another mom respond by saying, "Well, you are on vacation, so it's okay."
Beasley sees the comment as reflecting an underlying behavior pattern that represents is a problem where youth sports are concerned. "Travel baseball is almost every weekend, if not every weekend, and the thought of setting aside healthy habits because you're on vacation cannot apply when that vacation is a weekly habit!" she says.
Beasley's anectodal experience is consistent with the findings of a 2012 University of Minnesota study1 of parent attitudes about nutrition in youth sports, which found that parents often excuse excessive snacking or junk food choices as being on occasional reward for practices or games, or because they didn't think consuming unhealthy foods would harm kids who were otherwise healthy and active.
No 'out-training' a bad diet
"Training your young athlete to pay as much attention to what goes into their bodies as they do to the practice drills and repetitions done to train their muscles will pay off in multiple ways," Beasley says. Simply put, "You cannot 'out-train' a bad diet," period. "If parents can see that the fuel going inside is just as important as the work done outside, that they work synergistically and play off of each other, they will understand that their child deserves the best fuel for performance just as much as they deserve the ‘best' coach, the best training, and playing for the best team."
Her advice to parents: "Don't be hesitant to bring healthy food as an alternative, if the concessions don't have healthy choices available. At my ball park, I convinced the concessions to purchase a bag of apples to place in a bucket at the ticket window, to see what happened, which was that they they sold out quickly! Kids and parents were happy, honestly, to have an alternative to the chips and hot dogs! And sub sandwiches or grilled chicken sandwiches purchased from local eateries went quickly as well. Just don't assume that a healthy alternative won't sell!
1. Thomas M, Nelson TF, Harwood E, Neumark-Sztainer D. Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2012;44(4):365-371.