Developing Healthy Habits in Young Athletes is a WIN!
Developing Healthy Habits in Young Athletes is a WIN!

guys playing lacrosseMany students participate in organized sports or athletics, from attending swimming lessons at the local pool to engaging in an organized sport like soccer. Regardless of their activity, developing healthy eating habits is key in keeping them energized, attentive, and performing their best. As a parent, instructor, teacher, or coach, you can play a unique role in helping kids develop healthy eating behaviors.

I have always been impressed with the great job my husband does in actively taking on the role of promoting health to the kids he teaches and coaches everyday. I asked him to share his perspective on why he takes this role so seriously, and he shares some tips that may be useful to you.

Michael Rosales is a high school science teacher, varsity football coach, mentor to at risk teens and father to a three-year-old boy.

How do you promote optimal health for your student athletes? What type of advice do you think matters most to them?

I promote health with my student athletes by constantly encouraging healthy foods. Whenever possible, I make sure they get a snack or meal after every workout. Having a registered dietitian talk to the team during the start of the season about eating healthy also gives them another perspective about what they need to do to be successful athletes. I  also give them informational handouts on proper nutrition, how to develop healthy eating habits and what nutritious foods they can easily choose at the store or when on the run. 

My student athletes are young men, so they want advice on how to properly gain muscle and have optimal athletic stamina. I notice that in the start of the summer, most athletes have terrible eating habits and it shows because they struggle at practice. After they realize that they don't have the energy they need and start to feel dehydrated, they start to make changes to eat healthier. 

When it comes to post-game recovery, what foods or beverages do your athletes rely on?

I am constantly telling the athletes to go home and drink chocolate milk to help in their immediate recovery. I also encourage them to eat a balanced meal. Studies have shown that chocolate milk is one of the most effective post workout recovery drinks. But what's great is that it is inexpensive and still provides all the nutrients they need to recover from the physical wear and tear of daily practice and games. It also helps that they think it tastes good too.  

Are you looked at as a role model for healthy behaviors? Is being a good role model important to you?

As a head football coach you are considered by the students and athletes as a role model in every way. I believe that the students, just like my son at home, are watching what we do and especially what we're eating. I am always trying to set good example when I eat anything in front of the students. I am constantly being asked questions about what food is good to eat and how certain foods work in our bodies. Healthy eating is so important for long-term health and optimal aging, but more relevant to high school students are the short-term benefits like improved athletic performance. I reinforce the message that if you take care of your body, it will take care of you.

Do you believe that the habits these teens form now will last well into their future?

I am very concerned about the raising rates of obesity and associated health problems like childhood diabetes. Habits kids form early in life will have a dramatic effect on their lives. As a coach I know firsthand that what my athletes eat every day affects how they play and feel. That is why I do my part to make sure they have the necessary information to make the best choices and also to make those healthy choices readily available. Sometimes this means having a team dinner before a big game where I am sure to include foods from all the food groups. Because many of my athletes families have limited financial resources, I try to encourage affordable and healthy foods the entire family can benefit from like milk, fruits, vegetables, whole grain pasta, peanut butter, eggs and yogurt. I am also grateful that many of my students and athletes rely on the school breakfast, lunch and after-school program to give them the healthy nutrients they need.

It takes over a 1000 repetitions of a good habit to break a bad habit, so I make it a daily priority to talk about eating healthy. It feels really great when I see those new, healthy habits take hold. 

 

References:

1. Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91.

2. Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD. The effects of low fat chocolate milk on postexercise recovery in collegiate athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3456-60.