Why our Family left Competitive Sport…

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…at least for now.

I am a huge sports fan.  I am the fan that PVRs and watches every single Olympic event.  I have great respect for athletes and admire what they accomplish.

In our own family, we have 3 active sons.  They have tried out several sports (soccer, basketball, track, diving, and more) but all ended up in competitive swimming.  Partially because our oldest absolutely loved it and then I thought it would be easier if they all followed suite.  They all have the great skill of swimming now (a life-skill I might add) and have learned many valuable lessons from the sport and their coaches.

Benefits of sport that I have seen:

  • learning about leadership and teamwork
  • developing coping mechanisms for anxiety before/during competition
  • learning to deal with loss, disappointment and developing resilience
  • developing patience and perseverance
  • improving social skills and different friends
  • building self-esteem and confidence
  • discipline and respecting authority

So where did it go wrong? 

The demands of the sport as they grew older became larger and a much more demanding commitment time-wise and financially for our family.  Our oldest began practice before school, I had to leave work early to get them to the pool, dry land training began and meets spanned entire weekends.  Really between the 3 boys we only had Sundays off but not even if there was a swim meet.  We even carpooled but it didn’t really put a dent in all the driving.  There was really no time for other interests, school sports or socialization with their school friends.

The funny thing was as a mom I was still willing to continue…why?  This took we a while to figure out but I’ve realized several things:

  1. Fear was holding me back from doing the right thing for our family.  Fear of my sons not being heavily involved in an activity, leading to getting into trouble as teenagers: drugs, alcohol, poor friend choices, etc.  But what I was missing that if my kids are so heavily involved in sport, I won’t have time to connect, teach or build relationships with my children which in turn can lead to the above anyway.
  2. Being different. (If families are blessed with the income for their children to participate in sport,) I think as parents we can get so caught up in helping our children finding their sport or “thing” that once they find it we can go overboard in lessons, camps, coaching, etc. that help them excel but it doesn’t teach them good life balance.  It’s so easy to get sucked into the “more is better mentality” and unfortunately this doesn’t leave time for kids to just be kids.
  3. Change is difficult.  At least for me it is.  And I guess this leads me back to fear and fear of the unknown.  It’s easier to stay in the same routine and pattern that’s familiar even if it’s destructive or not fully in line with your values.

I cannot recommend or say what the right decision is for other families but I’d just encourage you to make sure what you and your children are involved in aligns with your core values as a family.  The demands of our sport started affecting my work, my son began being tired at school, I was getting sick more often, we were rarely able to do the family activities we loved (bike, hike, ski, etc.) and it was becoming quite the challenge to find a Sunday church time that would work.  But what was most destructive was that our family meals and time together were suffering.  Research has shown that family meals are so important for connection and the health of our children.  This fact I could not ignore.

Research has shown that simply sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing family meals has a positive impact on children and teenager’s development.  Children and teens that eat regular meals with their family have been shown to have improved food choices, better nutrient intakes, lower eating disorder risk, better social adjustment and improved school performance.

Also, I have witnessed and learned in my dietitian career to be cautious when the only identity your child has is their sport.  In working with young adults and teenagers suffering with eating disorders, I have seen many young elite athletes have one sport become the one and only thing they live for.  Their whole identity seems to be wrapped up in “I’m a hockey player” or “I’m a dancer”.  Great that they have found “their thing” but I see the destructive side when they suddenly cannot play their sport anymore (ie. because of injury, age, etc.).  I see a huge loss in identity and young people feeling lost because they have nothing else to turn to.  All their time and attention has been devoted to that one sport.  I just have to say to encourage your children to diversify and have several interests, hobbies and/or sports.

This leads me to the research that shows that children should diversify… The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) put together an “Early Sport Specialization Consensus Statement” in 2016 because of concerns of this growing trend in children’s sport.  (Single sport specialization is defined as 9 months or more of one sport to the exclusion of others.)

The overall results were: “there is no evidence that young children will benefit from early sport specialization in the majority of sports. They are subject to overuse injury and burnout from concentrated activity. Early multisport participation will not deter young athletes from long-term competitive athletic success.” (AOSSM, 2016)

From a public health perspective, why isn’t more being done?  According to the AOSSM early sports specialization has actually been identified as damaging for an athlete’s future physical and mental health.    From another excellent read “Fear, greed, broken dreams: How early sports specialization is eroding youth sports”  J.J. Adams says “These days, alas, the fun in youth sports is rapidly fading, the dreams of children replaced by the ambitions of adults.”(Adams, 2018)  I’m hopeful that children’s sport leagues, coaches and parents will all pay attention and learn from this valuable research and information to affect change for the future.  My personal hopes are that there will be more opportunities for children’s recreational sport and early sport specialization will become taboo.

So I’m not sure where the future will lead my sons but for now competitive sport is on hold and I’m really excited about all the new possibilities and opportunities for our family!

 

 

SKIP The Resolutions

Why commit to unrealistic short-term resolutions when they aren’t going to last?

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Here are some Red Flags that your resolution may not be suitable or effective for benefiting your health.

Your Resolution may not be a great choice if it:   

  1. Makes you feel deprived.

Ie. A fad diet.  It can fail because you really love carbs but the diet says you cannot eat them.  You avoid carbs for a while and then end up bingeing.

Instead: Focus on what you can add in (vs take out).  For example, including or increasing vegetables at lunch and dinner.

  1. Creates more stress in your life.

Ie. Counting calories.  It can fail because for some people it becomes obsessive and time consuming.  The focus on calories can take away from food satisfaction and trusting your body.

Instead: Focus on balancing your meal with protein, grain and vegetable(s) choices.

  1. Creates rigidity.

Ie. Food rules.  “I can only eat gluten-free, organic, dairy-free, clean, and sugar-free”.  It can fail because you are limiting your options so much (and unnecessarily unless there are food allergies, etc.) that you don’t know what to eat.

Instead: Allow yourself flexibility.  Maybe you aim to eat less sugar when you are at home but don’t worry about it when you are invited to your friend’s for supper.

  1. Has no evidence of improving your health.

Ie.  Doing a cleanse or detox.  It can fail because there is no evidence to show it improves health and in some cases can even be harmful.  Also, it’s not changing long term habits or behaviours.

Instead: Avoid harmful behaviours like binge drinking.  Seek out a credible regulated health professional such as a Registered Dietitian for evidence based health advice.

  1. Affects your sleep.

Ie.  Not eating enough in attempt to lose weight.  It can fail because lack of intake can interrupt sleeping patterns where you wake up at unusual hours from hunger.  Lack of sleep can affect hormones that can actually increase appetite.

Instead:  Learn to trust your body that it knows how much it needs to be nourished. Build awareness of your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

  1. Doesn’t fit into a reasonable schedule.

Ie.  Working out 7 days a week.  It fails because realistically you don’t have that kind of time and don’t enjoy the gym.

Instead: Focus on fewer days a week of quality exercise that you enjoy (group class or fun hockey league?) and then do something active with your family on the weekend.

  1. Creates disconnection and/or social isolation.

Ie.  Extreme eating patterns.  It can fail because you have to prepare a totally different supper than the rest of your family or you can’t eat at restaurants.

 Instead: Focus on creating healthy family meals and connecting with the people you are eating with.  You may find you eat slower, enjoy your food more and feel more satisfied!

Instead of resolutions think about:

  1. Starting now or anytime. Don’t wait for the New Year to make changes!
  2. Being realistic. Make small changes in your day-to-day routine.  You will see the benefits in the long-term.
  3. Finding support(s). Making changes with your spouse or a friend can be fun and encouraging (and help when you are feeling less motivated).  Also, accountability can be beneficial in supporting sustainable change.
  4. Avoiding extremes. No one needs to eliminate anything from their diet.  Look at what your food is providing you: a mix of nourishment and enjoyment.  It’s the frequency or quantity that may need to change.
  5. Avoiding diets. There is no point to eating from a diet plan that you know you can’t live with for the long-term.  Diets and diet culture may actually lead to more weight gain.
  6. Avoiding bad advice. Avoid advice from online celebrities, personal testimonials and people trying to sell you their product. Just because they are famous, popular or pop up in your online search does not mean they are health experts.
  7. Avoiding “all or none” thinking. There will be moments of getting off track – that does not mean you failed.  It’s when you allow your negative thoughts to keep you off track that leads to an unhealthy lifestyle.
  8. Taking a wholistic approach to health. Maybe your food intake and fitness are healthy but is stress being managed? Stress can impact physical health in so many ways. Ie. trigger IBS symptoms, affect hormones, etc.

What changes can you make in your day to day routine that will improve your health?

*Photo by Jordan Donaldson | @jordi.d on Unsplash

Nutrition Fail – My 1st Marathon

I’m sharing this personal experience with hopes that it might save someone from the mistake I made…

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On May 27, 2012 I ran my first full marathon.  My goal was sub 4 hours which I thought was reasonable for being a busy mom of 3 young boys.  I followed a training plan and ran the appropriate mileage each week.  As a Registered Dietitian I paid attention and knew nutrition was important especially for the full marathon distance.  I was careful to hydrate, get my electrolytes in on long runs, paid special attention to carbohydrates and recovery nutrition (including carbs and protein).  For ease, I trained using water, energy gels and sports drinks.

Race day was a cool cloudy day.  I felt ready but anxious.  The start was congested but I managed to make my way into my own space after a few kilometers.  It wasn’t a flat course by any means but I managed the hills (I am from Saskatchewan after all) and was thankful for my hill training.  The atmosphere was enjoyable with people cheering you on and I had some good laughs at the signs created by spectators.

I felt good overall until near the end of the race when fatigue starting setting in.  Honestly, the thought of choking back another energy gel was enough to make me want to vomit.  So I didn’t.  Big mistake.

From what I remember around the last 5km mark I bonked and bonked hard.  Some may call it “Hitting the wall”.  I basically felt like I had a sack of bricks tied to my feet and legs – they were so heavy and difficult to lift.  From a mental perspective, I started to feel delusional and just “out of it”.  Someone asked me why I just didn’t sprint the last 100 meters and honestly it would have been physically and mentally impossible.  After I crossed the finish line I almost fell over and didn’t feel right until I ate some cookies and drank some sports drink at the food tents.

In case you are wondering, somehow I still met my goal of sub 4 hrs (my chip time was 3hrs:59min:58sec) and I was still happy about meeting my goal.  However, questions will always remain – how at risk was my health and safety? and if I hadn’t messed up my nutrition plan – what could my time have been?

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson and want to share it with others.  Have a nutrition plan, don’t think you can get away with skipping the carbs, and train with some different options.  Otherwise your safety and performance will suffer.

5 Nutrition Tips for New Marathoners:

  1. Forget Low-Carb: Low carb diets are not for distance runners.  Distance runners need carbohydrate stores called glycogen which fuel long runs.  Simply put-if you are not eating enough carb daily to meet your basic needs, you will not store any glycogen to fuel your long runs.
  2. Train with a Nutrition Plan:  You need to practice your fluid and fuel strategies during training runs in order to assess your body’s tolerance (ie. digestive upset, cramping, etc.).  For runs 1-2.5 hours: 30-60g of carbohydrate is recommended per hour.  For longer runs >2.5 hours: up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour.  Adequate hydration is always essential and electrolyte replacement is recommended for running 1 hour or longer.
  3. Vary Carb Sources: to prevent flavour/taste fatigue.  Taste buds can get tired too which makes it very difficult to choke down another sweet gel.  Train with a few options.  Varied carb sources may also be of benefit to achieve higher carbohydrate absorption rates and therefore enhance performance.
  4. Don’t forget Recovery Nutrition: Have a recovery snack high in carbohydrate with a modest amount of protein within 20-30min.  Then have a balanced meal ~1hour later.
  5. See a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist if you have Questions: It is very important to look for the credentials RD or PDt after the health professional’s name or ask if they are a Dietitian.  In many provinces the title “Nutritionist” is not protected so someone could call themselves a “Nutritionist” with little or no education and without accountability to a regulatory body.  Registered Dietitians have many different specialties so seek out someone with sports nutrition experience.

Check out these links to useful resources: