Sunday, December 22, 2013

Top Youth Sports Trends for 2014

It’s that time of year again when we can look back on the previous year and analyze the goals we set out to achieve over the past 12 months. Hopefully, you hit on some real game changers that improved the lives of your family and community.

Last year at this time I wrote about the top health and fitness trends heading into 2013. [1] So how did that turn out? For the most part the trends held up particularly those dealing with nutrition, specifically the trend of gluten free diets and consumers avoiding grains and starches due to the Paleo craze.

Also consumers have continued to push for transparency when it comes to what they are feeding their families. There was a big national push for rules that would force the food industry to disclose whether or not their products contained genetically modified organisms (GMO).

That said right here in my community I noticed a lot of convenience stores and quick serve chains popping up all over the place. So at the end of the day there is still strong demand for quick stuff (I hesitate to call it food) no matter what it is.  We are all still trying to be to many places at one time and when we rush we back ourselves in a corner and the answer is inevitably dinner at the drive-thru. So if one of your goals was to slow down and appreciate life a bit more odds are we struggled to accomplish that one.

More sit down restaurants are supporting farmers featuring seasonal and local items on their menus. I know there is a small minority that this is important to but lack of interest by the masses makes this very much a small niche in the market. It’s a positive trend but it’s moving at a snails pace.

From a fitness point of view I thought big box gyms (Planet Fitness, L.A. Fitness and the like) would continue to pop-up in every community. That has certainly been the case but I still find it odd that despite all of these options we are still as unfit as we have ever been. More options are not the answer but better options are definitely the answer.

On that note there has been an explosion in high intensity forms of training for adults and kids alike. Great concept, but this shouldn’t be an entry point for most folks and you can’t train at high intensity for 12 months out of the year. In a related trend physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons are flourishing.

That was last year what about the year ahead?

Kids call the shots!

 Kids influence nearly 80 percent of purchase decisions by families. [2] We know kids are strongly influenced by popular media and that it drives their desire to fit in and be cool. We all want the best for our kids and want them to have positive self-esteem. This feeds off of the idea that we are always in a rush running children from one event to the other and we end up settling for lesser nutrition options and other purchases that may be used to appease children when we are tired and stressed from a long day at the office and car pool.

Girl Power!

The emergence of the “IndieWoman” will continue to drive the demand for convenience options. Media analysts have so dubbed women whom are 27 and older, live alone without children and spend $50 billion on food and beverages each year.

Convenience doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We all a would like to do more with our valuable time and quite frankly not everyone likes to cook, go grocery shopping or plow the driveway. Delegation is an option so long as we have resources that are reliable and trustworthy. Ideally we continue to hold the food industry to a high standard and our demand for quick and healthy options becomes mutual.

Sports Safety

Diagnosis and media coverage has definitely played a significant role in making us more aware of sport related injuries such as concussions but I do feel they are occurring at an increased rate than in decades past. Even in sports like baseball teams have become extremely conservative (smartly so I might add) before allowing athletes to return to action. Though not unexpected it has become commonplace over the last year or two in the NFL and NHL for a rash of players to miss significant time due to head trauma concerns. This increased concern and awareness is a positive trend that will benefit all competitors in the long run and young athletes in particular. Most scholastic and recreation programs have adopted concussion policies in some form as a condition for participation. This is crucial because youth sport injuries may lead to adult brain disease. [3]

Wanted: All Around Athletes

More teams will go out of their way to scout/recruit/develop versatile athletes. Related to the concerns of sport injuries roster depth is being seriously challenged in all sports. Coaches will be on the look out for athletes that can play multiple positions to insure their teams against injuries to key personnel. In the pro ranks the crack down on steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have also lead to athletes requiring longer recovery times. Unfortunately, this recovery time isn’t compatible with long and brutal professional seasons (don’t forget the crazy “workloads” for some youth sports either!). Without the added boost of PEDs athletes are breaking down more than ever because they simply don’t have the opportunity to regenerate their bodies adequately.  Early specialization for young athletes is also a problem because their one-dimensional development has left their still developing bodies vulnerable to over-use and fatigue related injuries. The single sport athlete isn’t very versatile and they aren’t very durable either, because their athletic foundation is to narrow.

Speed and Athleticism over Strength

Teams are starting to realize that speed and overall athleticism are qualities that can get you over the hump. For example look no further than the Detroit Tigers. Last season they were a one-dimensional baseball team. They were over-reliant on the big guys in their batting order slugging the ball out of the ballpark. When it works it’s an awesome sight but it’s also a dangerous way to live because brute strength manifests itself in spurts, it’s very unreliable especially against advanced competition. The Tigers may have seemingly taken a step back in “Star” power but they have brought in faster and more versatile athletes. Their management realized that to get over the top they needed to become more consistent. Speed and athleticism is like an insect that’s buzzing around your head. It’s not going to knock you over but it will drive you nuts because you’re always aware of it and you just can’t shake it. Speed and all-around athleticism places pressure on the opponent and often forces them into making mistakes. On the flip side speed and adaptability also allow those that posses them to overcome their mistakes. As it relates to baseball no more PEDs has also deflated the era of over-powered sluggers. Out of necessity teams have been forced to reexamine the art of scoring runs. [4] [5]

Teens Obsession with Body Image

Six in ten 13-year-old girls, compared to four in 10 boys the same age, are afraid of gaining weight or getting fat. [6] Pro athletes cover models and Hollywood action stars with the means (artificial and otherwise) have grossly distorted what kids and adults perceive as healthy and strong. It should come as no surprise that young male athletes aren’t the only ones experimenting with PEDs. More than 1 in 20 high school girls has already used anabolic steroids and the number of female users is increasing. In fact, the fastest growing user group is young high school girls. [7]

My Hope for 2014

If I could see one fitness trend take shape in 2014 it would be the reemergence of basic physical education. We have done a very good job in this country of teaching/exposing our kids to sports. At the same time we have neglected the real value of a basic physical education. Sports are great and I love them, most kids have found one that they enjoy but just as many haven’t. It’s my strong belief that we need to teach kids how to take care of themselves. Every child should have a basic idea of how to put together an exercise program that fits his or her needs. This would include the kids that play sports as well. A broad physical education will support and enhance all athletic endeavors while also providing kids that just aren’t into sports the physical outlet they need to become healthy adults. I have a few ideas on how to make this happen and I plan to share them in the New Year.

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Eating Healthy: Does it really cost more?

With a new year fast approaching you are likely thinking about lifestyle changes that will help propel you toward your personal goals for 2014 and beyond. You may want to exercise more often or more efficiently with a better game plan.  Losing weight or eating healthier may also be prime targets on your radar for living your best life.

Another goal heading into the New Year may be to get your finances in order. But eating healthier foods such as organics are generally more expensive than the less “healthy” varieties.

On the surface it may seem that in order to eat healthier you need to make other cuts to your budget. However, according to recent research these cuts do not have to be draconian in nature.

The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets, according to new research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

The researchers found that healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts—cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats, and refined grains). On average, a day’s worth of the most healthy diet patterns cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

The researchers suggested that unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities, which has led to “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” Given this reality, they said that creating a similar infrastructure to support production of healthier foods might help increase availability—and reduce the prices—of more healthful diets.

“This research provides the most complete picture to-date on true cost differences of healthy diets,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author and associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School. “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs. On the other hand, this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.” [1]

It’s not always easy to figure out when to pay more for higher quality foods, but there are certain foods that you should consider paying a little more for. For example recent research revealed that organic grass fed milk is more nutritious than conventional.

Washington State University researchers have found grass-fed cows may provide milk with healthier fats than conventionally raised cattle. The team studied about 400 samples of whole milk, both conventional and organic, and found organic milk seems to have a much higher proportion of omega-3s compared with omega-6s.

Americans consume 10 to 15 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s.

The researchers attribute the difference to organically raised cattle eating more grass and greens instead of processed grain feed. [2]

I view paying a little more now for higher quality food as an investment. In the future you will likely be rewarded with robust health without the need for any expensive medical procedures due to lifestyle choices that can lead to losses in productivity and quality of life. And don’t take that to mean that eating higher quality food now will only bare fruit in your “Golden Years.” There is simply no intervention that can have a bigger impact on health and performance than high quality nutrition.

No one understands the benefits of exercise and fitness better than I but we only exercise 4-6 days a week in an ideal scenario. At minimum you will have over 20 feeding opportunities during the week. Each one of these feeding opportunities positively or negatively impacts your immediate performance. Drink an energy drink of cola before bed and you will likely pay for it the next day with poor focus and concentration because you weren’t able to sleep the night before. Eat a high fiber meal before a workout or game and you will be making a lightning fast run for the bathroom. However, if you eat a well-balanced meal with protein, good fats and fruit or vegetable and all of these foods are a familiar part to your diet you will respond with sustained focus and energy. With sustainable focus and energy you are better equipped to make good choices throughout the day. These small choices add up over weeks, month’s even years and result in health and vitality that continues to build and endures for a lifetime.

I also agree with the researchers that the current food policy in our country promotes poor dietary choices. However, while changing said policies may be a good idea it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for the ways things are. We have the power to impact our families today by choosing to eat locally raised (when feasible) food from farmers/artisans that are committed to raising and growing high quality, unprocessed whole foods. At the very least we need to abandon the highly processed and packaged stuff that passes for food. Our spending behaviors ultimately speak louder than any political strategies ever will. The health of our families is far too important to wait for the infrastructure to take shape and support what we truly want and need. Start by shopping for whole unprocessed foods and you are off to a great start because you are modeling the change you want to see in your family and community.

Speaking of the processed food infrastructure one of the hot topics nationwide lately has been the issue of whether or not genetically modified foods should be labeled…
It’s a heated debate and for simplicities sake if you want to avoid them seek out organic foods. It used to be if you just avoided package food you were safe but even salmon and apples are being experimented with and are very close to becoming a reality.

According to the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund:

The biotech industry keeps promising to solve major problems, from world hunger to malnutrition. Instead, they’ve given us herbicide-resistant and pesticide-producing crops, increasing Americans’ exposure to toxic chemicals. What’s the latest genetically engineered crop that’s heading for your plate? Apples that never turn brown.

Like all genetically engineered crops, these new apples have not been proven safe for human consumption. Even worse, they use a troubling new genetic engineering technique, which has even greater potential side effects for the environment and human health. The genetically modified (GMO) apple has been produced using a new technique known as RNA interference (RNAi). This method uses genes from the same species in order to trigger a “silencing” mechanism that stops a certain protein from being produced.

But the technology doesn’t just silence the genes that are intended. There is mounting evidence that the RNAi technology can have effects on other genes as well, preventing the production of proteins of many types. A 2012 Cell Research study indicated that ingesting RNA material from certain plant-based foods can have unexpected effects in mammals.

Humans should not have to serve as the guinea pigs for this technology!

Although these GMO apples are primarily targeted to the fresh-sliced apple market, they could also find their way into juice, baby foods or applesauce at the processing level–all products frequently eaten by children and babies who are at increased risk for any adverse health effects.

Even the apple industry has opposed this genetically engineered product. The U.S. Apple Association, Northwest Horticultural Council (which represents Washington apple growers, who grow over 60% of the apples in the U.S.), British Columbia Fruit Growers Association and other grower groups have already voiced their disapproval of these GMO apples due to the negative impact they could have on farmers growing organic and non-GMO apples through contamination, and to the image of the apple industry as a whole.

If the apple industry doesn’t want GMO apples, and consumers don’t want GMO apples, then who wants these apples on the market? As usual, this product would only benefit the biotech industry and big food processing companies. [3]

Given the above information choosing certain fruits and vegetables that are grown organically may provide more piece of mind. For more information check out the link below:

In conclusion, if you have to choose between grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood (as opposed to farm-raised) or organic produce due to budget reasons, personally I would recommend grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood every time.  You can wash pesticides off of a lot of produce (though not all), but you can’t change fatty acid composition and vitamin content of meat and fish.

On a similar note, if you have to choose between grass-fed beef and pasture- raised poultry, I would go with grass-fed beef every time as well.  Poultry is naturally leaner, so the improvement in fatty acid composition and the associated fat-soluble nutrients from being raised on pasture is less pronounced than in beef.  

Having said that, I would still encourage the purchasing of “naturally” raised poultry from your grocer, as it is still an improvement over completely conventional, though not quite as good as pasture-raised.  At least the animals wouldn’t have been subjected to antibiotic use, and therefore will have significantly lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  You can also look into purchasing entire chickens rather than just breasts; it is more cost-effective.

 Phil Loomis
Youth Athletic Development/Nutrition Specialist

Related Topics

Is organic food more nutritious?

Can you eat healthy with $1?