Sports parents, have you experienced this dilemma before? Your son or daughter only has an hour between games at a baseball or basketball or hockey tournament. And your kid is starving. Your options are limited. You can race to whatever McDonalds or Subway or whatever is within a couple miles, or you can buy whatever secondhand hot dogs, pizza or other foods are available at the tournament concession stand.
Either way, you're not exactly giving your young Superstar much in the way of healthy options.
A research review out of the University of Minnesota points out the inevitable conclusion of this dilemma: the kids end up consuming more calories and eating more fast food, sports drinks and fruit juices. The increased calorie consumption made it impossible for the researchers to conclude that participation in youth sports had a net healthy outcome for kids or any impact on the rate of child obesity in the U.S., according to a Star Tribune story. The study concludes:
"The existing research suggests that youth in sport are more likely to consume greater amounts of calories and consume some unhealthy foods and beverages. It is unclear whether the higher energy expenditure associated with sport compensates adequately for this additional energy intake."
The study was fresh in my mind this weekend as I coached my son's basketball team in a cramped school building in Orono and kept track of his younger sister on the sidelines. Despite this new information, I was the idiot parent who didn't plan ahead and bring healthy snacks or meals for my kids. They had pizza and Gatorade instead. Parents, I know you've got ways to deal with this! What snacks or meals do you bring to these sports events?
There was some good news in the U of M report, which based its conclusions on seven prior studies comparing food intake of kids who participated in youth sports and those who didn't. In two of the studies, the sportos also ate more fruits and vegetables and drank more milk!
The U of M report noted that half of participants in youth sports are overweight, and offered several theories. One is that athletes overcompensate for their exercise by eating too much, and gain too much weight as a result. (As much as half of practice time is spent listening to the coach or waiting in line during drills, so the athletic benefits might not be as robust as perceived.) It's also possible that larger children are preferred in certain youth sports such as football and hockey. That could have artificially tilted the research results a bit.