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Nurturing Young Minds: Foods That Support Young Athletes and Their Brains

brain health nutrition sport nutrition Aug 30, 2023

As a parent, supporting my kid’s physical and physical development through the pubertal years was extremely important to me (and still is even though all of my kiddos are post-puberty now). I am sure the same is true for you whether you are a parent or coach of young athletes. Many times though, we only think of food as fuel for the muscles but we also need to highlight the importance of nutrition on brain health and supporting optimal development and cognitive functioning.

Here is a short list of “brain foods" to include in your young athlete’s daily nutrition plan to help with the brain. Remember, they may not like some of these now but taste preferences continue to develop and change well into the 20’s so be patient and adaptable! 

Fatty fish - salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA. Omega-3s are crucial for brain development and cognitive function. They may enhance memory and concentration, making them a great addition, even if only 1-2 times per week.

Colorful fruits and veggies - brightly colored fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that nourish the brain. Berries, spinach, sweet potatoes and broccoli are examples of nutrient-rich options that support brain health.

Whole grains - oats, quinoa, brown rice and whole grain bread can help sustain focus and maintain energy levels stable throughout the day in school and during practices.

Eggs - eggs are a fantastic source of choline, a nutrient that supports memory and brain function. Egg yolks also contain essential B vitamins that contribute to cognitive development.

Nuts and seeds - walnuts, almonds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are rich in healthy fats, including omega-3s and antioxidants. These fats contribute to brain health and can aid in improving cognitive function.

Plain Greek yogurt - packed with protein and probiotics, Greek yogurt supports the gut-brain connection. A healthy gut microbiome can positively influence mood and cognitive development.

Lean proteins - lean meats, poultry and beans provide amino acids that are the building blocks for neurotransmitters, which are essential for communication between brain cells.

Water - staying hydrated is key for optimal brain function. Dehydration can lead to reduced focus and cognitive performance, so encourage your young athlete to drink water and eat high-water-containing foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Dark chocolate: when sweets are wanted, choose dark chocolate because it has certain antioxidants called flavonoids. These compounds may enhance blood flow to the brain, improving memory and cognitive abilities.

Remember, variety is key with young athletes and their ever-changing taste preferences. Providing a well-rounded daily nutrition plan that includes a colorful array of foods ensures your young athlete will receive a spectrum of essential nutrients that contribute to their brain health. By nourishing their bodies and minds, you're helping your young athletes build a strong foundation for their future. Oh, and don’t forget to set a positive example yourself!

For more information about how to feed young athletes, watch my FREE masterclass HERE.

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