The greatest rugby nation on earth may be facing huge issues in the future due to the lack of nutritional education in many of its young child athletes.
The full and original article can be found at www.stuff.co.nz and was written by Ewan Sargent on September 6 2016.
Lea Stening a Christchurch-based expert says while many children aren’t getting the right type of food for healthy growth, those heavily involved in sports are particularly at risk.
As a result, she believes, many abandon sports through burnout and because of injuries – things that could have been avoided if they had eaten better.
Stening is a leading paediatric dietitian who also specialises in sports nutrition. She has worked with national organisations such as NZ Cricket, softball, rowing and paralympics.
She says many schools are not delivering the education on nutrition students need because current policies have left the institutions to do what they want.
“We need a syllabus at primary school for kids on nutrition. And, alongside that, a sports syllabus so that children can learn about the importance of recovery and … of sports nutrition to growth.”
Stening says children have different nutrition needs than adults, and those heavily involved in sports need different food to their peers..
“A lot of children are very proud of the fact, and so are their parents, that they are doing two or three sports.”
While that can be a good thing in developing a greater range of motion and learning how to work in groups, Stening says the training hours can climb too high without parents realising it.
“They get burnt out too early because they are not eating sufficiently to fund all this exercise.”
Stening says young athletes need “good fuel for breakfast for energy”.
“They need good protein to build muscle. They need the right fats for brain and nerve development. They need the right fluids, particularly milk.”
If they have changed their diets because of allergies or intolerances, that needs to be taken into account and the diet changed to give them what they are losing if they start ruling out big food groups like wheat products and dairy.
“That’s where they need specialist help. It’s not something you can willy nilly muck about with.”
Different sports need different nutrition.
“A young runner will need a different diet than someone who is in ballet or in rugby,” she says. “A runner needs endurance so you’d be looking into that child having a good intake of carbohydrate that is measured.
“Are they getting enough breads, fruit and cereals to get them through their day and are they getting protein at the right times so they develop muscle tissue?
“Also hydration is very important. You need to look at fluids.
“Meanwhile, a promising young rugby player would be looking to nutrition to help prevent bone injuries.
Stening says the lack of good information leaves young athletes vulnerable to what she calls “nutrition noise”.
This includes coverage of fad diets like juicing, cleansing, fasting, the 5:2 diet, Paleo and so on.
They get a barrage of advice from unqualified people like fitness gurus, celebrity chefs, personal trainers, and well-meaning coaches and parents, all of which can be contradictory and even dangerous.
“We have some young kids trying to emulate what older elite athletes are eating. That’s why they are getting into getting dietary supplements off the internet. They are starting to get into protein shakes well before they need them.”
Those shakes can damage them, for example, because their kidneys aren’t developed enough to take the higher load of some of these drinks.
Stening says sports stars get good nutrition advice if they make it through to High Performance New Zealand’s Pathway to Podium programme which supports 350 athletes and 150 coaches. It covers athletes aged 17-23.
But it’s the keen sports children outside that elite group that she believes we are letting down. She fears many will have fallen away from sport before they get near the programme or arrive on it weaker than they should be.
In a paper she gave to a national dietitians conference in Wellington recently she said key steps to improve the situation include teaching nutrition in primary schools, creating a junior sports nutrition syllabus, removing fast food companies from sports sponsorship in schools so teaching resources were clear of commercial sponsorship, and launching nutrition education programmes for sports clubs outside schools.