May 03

Tip of the Month – April 2020

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Coach Monika Says…

Nutrition Strategies during “Shut Down” and Lack of Training

These are ‘hard times’ for regular folks and especially athletes, who are in important training phases! The required ‘shutdown,’ social distancing and isolation at home are big challenges for all active athletes and specifically those training toward regional and national championships, or trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympic games (postponed until 2021). All competitive events, tournaments (Wimbledon), and Games (NHL Stanley Cup), etc. and International soccer matches have been either suspended or postponed indefinitely.

Elite Athletes

These athletes consume a higher caloric intake during training periods. Therefore, being ‘forced’ to stay at home (incarceration) has several unique issues. Idle and without a regular workout routine, they need to get ‘creative’ to remain fit but also become disciplined in order to avoid falling into the ‘eating trap.’ Researchers show that many athletes in their post-career life tend to continue to eat the same amount of food as previously while training and they usually end up with a heavy weight gain! So, if 4000 to 6000 calories were consumed daily, they should consult with a sport nutritionist or seek nutrition guidelines to establish their intake during reduced training. It is recommended to design an exercise chart with daily dates. Figure out the calories needed and then establish the daily food intake.

Younger Athletes 

The ‘picky eater syndrome’ may become more apparent because athletes are ‘stuck’ at home, snacking, and may become more ‘finicky’ in their food choices. During normal days rushing to the training facility, field, competition or games parents tend to hurry their athletes home, and then less attention is possibly paid to eating habits, especially at night after practice. 

How do you fuel a ‘picky’ eater? Here are some suggestions:

Reference – Modified: TrueSport (2019). Retrieved April 2, 2020, from TrueSport (2019). Retrieved April 2, 2020 from, http://learn.truesport.org/fuel-picky-eater/

List of ‘Acceptable’ Options

Most ‘picky eaters’ have certain food staples, like chicken nuggets or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but are risking a bad eating habit because of the unhealthy amount of sugar. Due to limited and ultra-processed menus, they can potentially end up missing out on key macro- and micronutrients like protein and fibre as well as vitamins and minerals. Parents should find a few options that resemble the usual ‘go-to foods’ while still providing the needed nutrients. For example, instead of tortilla chips after a game or competition bring along kale chips or another vegetable chip that is still salty but also provides some nutrients. Parents should make sure that those healthier options your athlete is willing to eat are always available – you might think it sounds like a boring menu but healthy alternatives provide adequate amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates as well as certain vitamins and minerals.

Giving the Athlete Control

Have the athlete assist in preparing the food, which tends to improve eating habits; have them try new flavours. Start by cooking dishes that they like and gradually try to shift to more nutrient-dense options. As well, include the athlete in meal planning and explain that every meal needs to contain vegetable choices, protein sources, carbohydrates, and healthy fat. If your athlete loves pizza, for example, experiment making one with a whole-wheat crust, adding real tomatoes to the sauce, and swapping out toppings like pepperoni for lean, protein-packed chicken. Top with the vegetables that they are willing to eat!

 Show – Don’t Tell

TrueSport Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietician and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, suggests that parents need to set examples. “If parents aren’t eating well, then there’s no way the kids will. If the parents are struggling with their diet or don’t know how to eat properly, work with a registered dietician. If cooking is a problem, try to attend a local cooking class with your athlete.” Athletes should eat plenty of vegetables and lean proteins with appropriate carbohydrate and fat sources. Show your athlete what a balanced plate looks like (nutrition pictures, food guide, or demonstrate the portion and combination on a plate). Researchers indicate that simple exposure to healthy foods can entice an athlete to be more inclined to try them.

Make Food Easily Available

Under-eating may become an issue for ‘picky eaters’ because they aren’t willing to consume healthy available options. Have a designated spot in the kitchen (and a bag in the car is handy) with your athlete’s ‘approved stash’ of healthy snacks. Changing the environment has a major impact on diet healthiness. Have a fruit bowl on the counter. Keep cut-up fruits and veggies in clear containers in the fridge at eye-level and in the front of the fridge. Package leftovers in individual containers, easy to grab, and heat. Store cupboards full of healthy options for easy reach: baked root vegetable chips, dried fruit, natural peanut butter, whole wheat bread, whole-grain crackers, dehydrated cheese ‘crackers,’ whole grain granola bars, or fruit and nut bars, for example. The primary goal of having an easy spot for your athlete to grab a snack is to ensure that their ‘picky’ nature never prevents them from fuelling properly.

Pack in the Nutrition

If your ‘picky eater’ is willing to drink a fruit smoothie, add plain Greek yogurt, etc. to provide protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Add a small handful of spinach, which is a nutrient-dense powerhouse food, also easy to ‘sneak’ into stews and sauces without altering the taste or texture. Small seeds like chia and flaxseed provide key micronutrients and fibre, which can also be easily ‘slipped’ into smoothies, cereal, or peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Swap white bread for a whole grain option, adding a dark leafy green instead of iceberg lettuce on a sandwich or some vegetables as pizza toppings.

Watch for Patterns of Eating Disorder 

The darker side of ‘picky eating’ can be the attempt to mask orthorexia* or another eating disorder, especially in teen athletes, who may be struggling with body image issues in sport. In fact, several years ago, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) became a clinical diagnosis for more serious cases of ‘picky eating.’

* Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet. Afflicted athletes often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders.

‘Picky eating’ has been shown to coincide with serious childhood issues such as depression and anxiety that may require expert intervention. Therefore, pay attention to other symptoms your athlete is displaying as well as a sudden change in weight. This might look like the athlete is showing more interest in eliminating specific foods from their diets or trying one trendy diet after another. According to Ziesmer (2019), it is not wise to set limitations on a particular food like banning candy. That can put a stigma around that food, and the child then becomes hyper-focused on that particular food (craving it and cheating!). It is important to encourage healthy foods, healthy practices, and parental role modeling to help prevent eating disorders.”

Let Us Not Forget:

Sports did not get canceled – Group practice, training, competitions, and games did. It is not an excuse to stop!

Athletes Can:

  • Train hard at home – be creative in workouts
  • Study films and video
  • Connect with teammates for support
  • Read and grow their knowledge base
  • Let the season not be sacrificed and wasted by stopping on what You Can Do (Kate Leavell)


Holwegner A (2020, April 2). SoundBites. COVID-19 nutrition: Coronavirus home eating guide Retrieved April 4, 2020, from, https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/covid-19-nutrition-guide/ ?inf_contact_key=8c6d52d51276e86996874a5615b0e436 

TrueSport (2019). Retrieved April 2, 2020, from http://learn.truesport.org/fuel-picky-eater/

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