What you eat affects what your body looks like, how you feel, how you perform in your given sport/sports and how well you do in school. So, pretty much everything you do on a daily basis is affected by how you fuel yourself.
Are you planning ahead and ensuring that you have the food and drinks you need to carry you through your school day and your after school practice (or before and after school for those who swim)?
Most teenagers know if they eat a diet full of meat-lovers pizza, fries and chicken fingers, they load up on saturated fat (the kind that clogs your arteries like gunk stuck in a drainpipe) and calories that aren't very useful.
What are useful calories? Those are the kind in nutrient-dense foods. Or, let's call them power-packed foods because they pack power and health in every bite or sip.
So for instance, a grilled chicken salad and skim milk is a power-packed lunch because the lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers and grilled chicken are loaded with vitamins and minerals that help produce energy from the foods you eat, maintain good eyesight, and keep your muscles functioning well. And of course milk is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D.
A lunch of french fries and chicken wings does not deliver the nutrition power that grilled chicken salad will. Notice how water gets stopped up in a clogged drain? Think about your blood (which delivers oxygen to your tissues, like your muscle and brain!) moving through clogged arteries. Not an efficient process.
Scientists examined what nutritionists have known for years. If you put junk in your body, you won't perform as well academically.
In particular, kids who eat breakfast boost their brain functioning, memory, test grades and they have better attendance records. And, those who ate breakfast were also less likely to be overweight.
Yep, eating regularly actually helps you manage a healthy weight!1 So be sure to eat breakfast before you leave the house, on the way to school or at school. Your body will thank you.
What types of foods do you need to keep your brain functioning well? Carbohydrates are the only fuel your brain can use and if you don't eat or drink enough carbohydrates, your body will use your storage forms of carbohydrates (which are intended for athletic performance). If you don't eat enough carbs and your body's storage form of carbohydrate is tapped, your athletic performance will suffer.
Healthy fats are also important. Many of the processes in your brain are regulated by a fat called DHA (you may see DHA fortified products in your grocery store)2.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut and tuna are great sources of DHA. And, protein-rich foods help build your brain's complex communication network. Lastly, don't forget colorful fruits and vegetables. They are chock-full of antioxidants which keep all of our cells healthy.
Your Power Packed Lunch
There are two options you have when it comes to bringing your own lunch. Refrigerated or not refrigerated. Obviously having refrigeration available greatly increases your options. And there are some general tips you should keep in mind:
- Prepare your lunches (and breakfast if you eat that on the way to school) the night before. That way you have no excuse for not bringing something if you wake up late. You can grab it and go!
- Keep several plastic storage containers, thermoses and zipper sandwich bags on hand so you have plenty of storage options. Don't forget plastic silverware if you don't have any available where you will be eating.
- Keep individual servings sizes of granola bars, energy bars, protein bars, fruit packed in water, bottled water etc. on hand.
- Go grocery shopping with your parents so you can help them buy nutritious food you like.
- Shelf stable individual serve milk such as Horizon Organic brand
- 100% fruit or vegetable juice, try V8 brand and skip apple juice (few nutrients)
- 12-ounce versions of vitamin water, athletes should give power-c (dragonfruit flavor) a shot to get the nutrients they need for good performance
- Bottled water
Refrigerated Foods ///
- Raw veggies with hummus or salsa
- Salads (skip the fried wontons or any fried topping), try a variety of greens, shredded carrots, chopped bell peppers, tomatoes etc. The more colors the better.
- Almost any kind of sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread or whole grain bread. Turkey breast, chicken breast and pork are lower in fat and healthy versions.
- Low -fat cheese and crackers
- Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
Not Refrigerated? Keep These Tips In Mind ///
- Keep an insulated lunch box on hand with freezer packs to keep cold foods cold.
- Never let cold food sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Freeze bottled water, 100% juice boxes and shelf stable individually packed milks the night before.
- Freeze burritos and condiment-free sandwiches the night before or a few days before you plan on eating them and then add them to your lunchbox in the morning before you leave for school. Make sure to wrap them well before freezing. If you like fresh veggies on your sandwich, don't freeze those beforehand or they won't taste good!
Non-Refrigerated Foods ///
- Peanut butter and jelly. Try natural peanut butter, it's healthier.
- Canned pop-top black bean dip or hummus with crackers
- Individual cans of tuna
- Individual cans of soup (especially if you have a microwave available)
- Protein bars
- Individual serving size protein drinks
- Whole grain cereal (great for a pre-practice snack later in the day)
- Trail mix (not the kind with tons of sugary candy in it!)
- Pita chips
- Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL et al. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc 2005;105(5):743-60.
- Plourde M, Cunnane SC. Extremely limited synthesis of long-chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2007;32:619-34.