Fuel your child’s performance in the classroom and during physical activity

Young people, no matter what their chosen activity is, need to have the right skills, training, mental attitude and, most importantly (and probably one of the biggest elements missing from most children's weaponry), nutrition, in order for them to perform at their absolute best, both in the classroom and in their chosen physical activity.

Unfortunately, nutrition can often be overlooked. Occasionally, children may be getting the correct diet, yet their body is burning through the nutrients at an alarming rate, or it may not be absorbing the nutrients properly, leaving the child depleted in essential vitamins and minerals.

With a diet high in fat, high sugar foods provide the wrong calories and a vast array of chemicals and additives that are most likely to hinder a child's performance, slow down their recovery from injury and lead to poor immunity, which equates to missed time participating in their activity, possibly time away from school, and missed social events.

It's not breaking news that the diets of so many children today, both locally and globally, contain nutrient-poor, high-caloric foods that are inadequate to provide the necessary nutrients to fuel a child, their growth and brain needs. Good nutrition is absolutely essential to both physical and mental well-being.

As a parent, I know only too well the hundreds of pounds spent each year on the latest gear, club memberships, private training, camps, training gear, game gear, travel - all of these items necessary to prepare, equip, and give our child the best opportunity to succeed in their chosen field. For school, it's textbooks, school equipment, gym gear, private tutoring, and school trips.

Where does nutrition fit in?

There is no doubt about it - it is challenging in today's society to raise a healthy child and athlete. Young people need to eat to compete, fuel their body, and help their body grow, and they must maintain mental focus. But how? With good nutrition.

Young people must learn to eat and drink appropriately throughout their school day, before and after their activity, to help them perform their best, reduce fatigue, reduce the risk of injury, shorten recovery time, boost immunity, and improve mental focus.

With inadequate nutrition and very little fluid intake throughout their day, they significantly increase their risk of reduced performance, both in and out of school, along with increased feelings of fatigue.

One of my top tips: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Throughout childhood, children grow up being told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet in my workings with groups of children, I have learned that it is the most frequently skipped meal of the day. Why? No time, slept in, unprepared or not hungry on wakening.

It has been clinically demonstrated that children have a higher overnight fasting period than adults due to higher sleep demands, which may significantly decrease their glycogen stores.

What is glycogen?

Glycogen is the secondary stored source of fuel for the body to use to produce glucose when the body requires it, especially during long periods of fasting. Breakfast replenishes those glycogen stores whilst providing the body with instant energy to jump-start the day.

It is important to note here that what a child has for breakfast (or may not have, as is often the case) may affect their academic performance and behaviour. Try to avoid giving your child high-sugar cereals, pop tarts, flavoured yoghurts, store-bought smoothies, and white bread products. Try to have your child start their day with oats, eggs, banana pancakes or oat pancakes, or wholemeal, wholegrain bread.

Other factors that may result in reduced performance both in and out of school may be;

  • Zinc deficiency - according to research by Harvard University, restoring a child's zinc levels may help to improve nerve signals to the brain and help improve their focus. Zinc deficiency, in terms of their physical activity, may affect speed and coordination of movement. Other research demonstrates that zinc is essential as food for the brain to help improve concentration, reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
  • Omega 3 - the essential fatty acid which primarily comes from oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines (not exactly fish most children enjoy). Omega 3 fatty acid is beneficial to everyone's health but even more so in the growing child who needs it to support brain health. The benefits of including omega 3 in the diet or via supplementation are improved concentration, better memory, and improved overall well-being.
  • Gut health - if your child suffers from gut problems (diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, excess gas) this may cause issues with absorption of nutrients from food. Furthermore, the gut produces a range of chemicals such as the neurotransmitter 'serotonin' - the happy hormone that travels from the gut to the brain to elicit effects. Therefore, it is essential to have a happy and properly functioning gut.
  • Yeast overgrowth - an overgrowth of year in the gut may cause problems such as fatigue, irritability, and brain fog. Yeast craves carbs and sugary foods, and it will stimulate these cravings within your child, causing them to over consume these types of food. Yeast overgrowth may cause issues such as brain fog, impacted focus and mood, and lower energy levels.

If you feel your child could benefit from working with a nutritionist in order that they can be the best version of themselves and succeed both in and out of school, contact a professional today to discuss your concerns about your child's health and how nutritional therapy may help to address these concerns.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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