By Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Getting young swimmers to eat right is not easy. Here are eight ways coaches can do their part:
Educate. Stroke refinement, turns and timed intervals all help swimmers hone their speed and swimming style. Likewise, nutrition education helps swimmers understand what they need to eat and how to fuel for training and competition. If nutrition information isn’t part of the swim program, I believe athletes are at a disadvantage. Link the USA Swimming nutrition articles to your swim team website, and look to have an annual speaker (preferably a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a sports nutrition background: find one at www.eatright.org/programs/rdfinder/) on the topic of nutrition.
Drink Policy. Establish expectations around drinking, such as only water or sports drinks. Make sure to specify what is not allowed as well, such as energy drinks and soda. Make drinking easy. Allow your athletes to have a water bottle at the edge of the pool and remind them to drink at each break in the action. Studies have shown that young athletes, in particular, need reminders so they drink enough.
Model. Walk the talk. Show athletes what it means to be a healthy eater, drinker and exerciser! Children and teens have their eyes on the adults in their lives, and that means coaches also.
Competition food policy. Set the rules for swim meets. Send an email to the team prior to meets outlining the eating rules: no junk food, no desserts, no soda and no candy. This sets the tone for the meet, and underscores the seriousness of competition and fueling for performance. Believe me, parents will be happy it is coming from the coach.
Resources. Compile handouts, books, articles and websites where athletes and parents can get quality nutrition information. These are two of my favorites: www.scandpg.org/sports-nutrition/ and www.momsteam.com/nutrition not to mention the resources here at USA Swimming.
Scheduled breaks. Plan for short intervals where athletes can drink during practices. Drink breaks can help tremendously to build the healthy habit of proper hydration.
Social Events. When teams come together for social events, don’t let it be an all-out junk food fest. It doesn’t have to be strictly healthy either. There’s room for both kinds of food categories. It’s pretty easy to offer veggies and fruit, a variety of pizza toppings and flavored seltzer. Having a representation of nutritious options (read: packed full of nutrients) and some ‘treat’ foods is a great way to balance it all.
Little Reminders. In team communications, don’t forget to send small tips and reminders about sports nutrition. These go a long way to set the tone and expectation of what and how to fuel, plus they educate your young swimmers. Recently, I received this from my daughter’s coaching staff the night before a weekend meet: “Please arrive on deck 15 minutes prior to warm up. Deck chairs are allowed. Please bring healthy snacks and water to stay hydrated.”
Use these eight steps to help your team get healthier and use good nutrition to their advantage.
Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (www.fearlessfeeding.com). She is the creator of Just The Right Byte (www.justtherightbyte.com), a childhood nutrition blog. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT. Questions? Contact her at Jill@JillCastle.com.