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How To Raise Athletes Not Couch Potatoes


Children are 10 pounds heavier today at age 10 than they were a decade ag.

Children are 10 pounds heavier today at age 10 than they were a decade ago. This weight is not functional muscle; it’s excess body fat caused by the combination of poor nutrition and inactivity, increasing the risk of almost every disease and leading to an early grave.

Did you know that one of the single best measures for a long and healthy life is a trim waistline? Keeping kids lean, fit and well-nourished until they reach the age of accountability is a major feat in this modern era.

Obesity has little to do with genetics (nature). In spite of a person’s metabolic predisposition, environment and lifestyle still override every other known factor. We know that overweight kids almost always have overweight parents. But take a close look at what they eat and then count the number of times they’ve been to the gym in the last month. Excess adipose tissue affects more than how we look or how fast we can run. And it’s more than just a reserve of surplus energy. Excess body fat is deadly.

Nutrition Counts

If allowed to choose without fear of reprimand, most kids would not select a glass of fresh carrot juice, green vegetables, a turkey breast or brown rice. Instead, they tend to zero in on commercial cereals (breakfast candy), packaged noodle soups, soft drinks and finger foods like pizza pops, french fries and sweets. Their world of nutrition is ruled by taste and texture rather than by culinary art and biochemical science.

Poor nutrition negatively affects children emotionally, mentally, socially and physiologically. Without optimum amounts of essential micronutrients, including B-complex vitamins, vitamins C and E, zinc, magnesium and chromium, young people become apathetic, moody and lose enthusiasm. Food allergies and food sensitivities are also to blame.

Our kids eat hundreds of kilograms of white flour, white rice and sucrose every year. That’s enough processed high-glycemic carbohydrates to destroy anyone’s insulin metabolism! Decades of reactive hypoglycemia sets up children for prescription and recreational drug abuse and dependency. By middle age it leads to the development of Syndrome X (characterized by a cluster of health problems, including insulin resistance and one or more of the following: glucose intolerance, obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood pressure).

And don’t think because children are young, food quality doesn’t matter. Over time, oxidizing burgers and ice cream damage them on the inside. Instead of "burning it off," it burns them out.

Important dietary supplements and sports nutrition products for kids include: essential fatty acids (especially omega-3), a multiple vitamin/mineral complex, additional antioxidants, meal replacements, whey protein, L-glutamine, friendly bacteria (probiotics) and energy sport bars (sugar-free and with no hydrogenates).

Kids Need To Be Active

Encourage children to go outside in the fresh air as much as possible. Up to age three or four, the best physical activity is natural movement, achieved through running, chasing balls, playing tag, digging, climbing and spending time at the park. When the time comes, teach your child how to ride a bicycle. Introduce in-line skating and skateboarding or buy your kids a foot-scooter. Emphasize safety and prevention of injury.

Swimming is excellent, although most public pools are too heavily chlorinated (so compensate with extra vitamin E and CoQ10). Dance lessons and gymnastics teach rhythm, neuromuscular balance and improve coordination. I also recommend martial arts programs for children of all ages, as well as community sport and games.

As your children develop interest, expose them to a wide variety of seasonal sports. Let them drop out after a couple of sessions if they don’t care for the experience, but encourage them to hang in there once committed. Communicate with them. Don’t force or pressure them into something for your benefit or ego. Not all kids gravitate towards organized sports but all kids should move their bodies daily and learn the basic fundamentals of exercise management. It’s no less essential than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Should Youngsters Lift Weights?

Dr Avery Faigenbaum, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, says seven- to 12-year-old kids can increase their strength by up to 40 percent if they follow an eight- to 12-week program of strength training. Such activity is of particular benefit to pre-adolescent girls, who can increase bone-mineral density and build up their bone bank to help prevent osteoporosis.

The American College of Sports Medicine officially endorses weight-training for children, but recommends adult instruction and supervision; proper warm-up and cool-down; a medical exam if there are any existing health conditions; one to three sets of six to 15 reps, two to three times weekly on non-consecutive days; avoidance of maximal, heavy lifting and emphasis on technique and safety, not the amount of weight.

If children live in a health-conscious environment, there is a good chance that they will be influenced in a positive way. Example is everything.



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Raise a glass and say cheers to not-so-hard drinks

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD