Breaking Bad! Building Good Nutritional Habits For Your Young Athlete (And You)

You have a son or daughter and they play sports. And since you do love them and want the best for them, you’ve decided to do everything in your power to help them succeed.

You’ve enrolled them at a Parisi Speed School to ensure they get the highest quality speed and strength training.

You’ve found the best coaches, enrolled them in the best sports camps and made sure they’ve played in the best travel teams.

Now imagine this scenario: After a one hour hitting lesson and and an intense strength training class at Parisi,  your child has worked up quite the hunger.

“Okay,” you say and pull into the McDonald’s drive through.

Wait? WHAAT?! All that effort. All that quality training. And you’re going to offset it by feeding them garbage?

If I’m speaking about you in this scenario, then don’t feel bad. Over the course of 18 years of training kids and adults alike, I’ve seen this scene play out time and time again. Time, effort and money is spent on gym memberships, training, coaches, etc., but nutritional choices remain poor.


Because healthy food choices are still the biggest mystery to the majority of people who begin a fitness regimen and this trickles down to their children. In this article, I’m going to address what to eat, but mainly emphasize creating habits that will keep your children on the path to healthy eating.

Here are three habits you can use to help ensure your young athlete gets the nutrition they need. The good news to this is that since you buy the food they’ll have to follow these habits. The bad news is that you’re also going to have to do the same (which isn’t really bad news because you’ll look and feel better too!)

Habit One: Keep a Clean House

No, I’m not saying that your living quarters are dirty, I’m saying the contents of your refrigerator and pantry are. So let’s get rid of all that dirty food. Here are some examples:

  • sodas
  • chips
  • cookies, cakes, candy bars, ice cream, etc.
  • processed frozen foods (hot pockets, pizzas, microwave meals)
  • sugary cereals

Remember if it’s not there, you can’t eat it, so go ahead and get rid of all of it. Now we replace the bad with the good:

  • lean meats
  • lean lunch meat
  • complex carbohydrates like rice, oats, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, vegetables and fruits
  • healthy fats like almonds, mixed nuts, real cheese, peanut butter

Now your kitchen is nice and clean with all the building blocks of a healthy nutritious meal. What’s next?

Habit Two: Learn to Prepare Meals

“Meal prep” is often a stressful term that creates images of hours of cooking packed away in Tupperware to be reheated days later. In actuality, it can be as simple as packing turkey sandwiches on wheat bread with real cheese for your kids to bring to school. Preparing dinner is also very important. Your kitchen is now full of healthy options, so there is an endless array of meals that can be made using combinations of those foods. Just use your imagination (or find recipes online). Make extra and you’ve got leftovers that can be packed for school the next day. Now that your meals are taken care of, you’re probably going to ask, “What about snacking? My kid is still a kid. You expect them to eat chicken breast and rice constantly?” No I don’t. Which brings me to…

Habit Three: Snacking

If they’re going to snack, then choose healthy ones. There are snacks out there that taste great and are still healthy (in proper amounts). Some examples:

  • Fiber One or NutrtiGrain bars
  • almonds or mixed nuts
  • string cheese
  • baked chips, wheat thins, rice cakes

These are also good to pack with you for games or trips to games as they are a quick means to provide clean, sustained energy.

There you have it. Try those three habits to get your young athlete eating better for performance, recovery and health. But remember as the parent you have to set the precedent by following them as well. Children pick up habits early and one of the most valuable lessons you can give them is what foods to eat and how they can go about eating those foods every day. Increased performance is valuable, but learning how to live a healthy lifestyle is priceless.

About the Author

Harley Ryder is the program director and a sports performance coach at Peak Fitness and Performance in Alexandria, La. He has worked in the fitness and sports performance industry for 18 years as a personal trainer, strength coach and nutritionist.

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