When your young athlete eats, they're not just fueling their bodies; their brains are also using food for fuel. And it might come as a surprise, but the brain uses around 20 percent of the body's energy, making it the hungriest organ. Fuel it appropriately, and your young athlete will be able to think fast and stay sharp in school and on the field. If it's in a deficit, however, your athlete may experience brain fog and struggle to pay attention to teachers and coaches. Here's how to keep your athlete's brain fueled properly:
Give it enough fuel
Since the brain requires so much energy to maintain optimal function, the most important thing that your young athlete can do is to eat enough. In fact, the younger a child is, the more energy the brain requires. At age five, research has shown that the brain uses almost half of the body's energy, and thus, half of its fuel. It's important, first and foremost, to make sure that your athlete is consuming enough healthy calories.
Downside of deficiency
Athletes who purposely or accidentally restrict calories may notice a decrease in ability on and off the field. In fact, Australian researchers conducted a survey and found that 42 percent of school-age children regularly skipped breakfast. "Skipping breakfast is the healthy lifestyle equivalent of driving your car on an empty petrol tank—it inevitably runs out when you most need it," Bupa Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Bennett said when explaining why this statistic is so problematic. "Research shows that skipping breakfast results in reduced learning, reduced attention, and poor food choices for the rest of the day."
Hydration and brain health
Hydration status can also play a role in optimal brain health. Research has found that dehydration can cause a sharp decrease in cognition. If athletes are regularly training in the heat or doing high-intensity training at any time of year, make sure that they're drinking enough during practice and throughout the day.