I had the extreme privilege of speaking to two groups of students last week (ages 11-12) at a local school. It is truly one of my favourite things to do – teach nutrition and fitness. After 18 years of doing this, I am pleased to say that some things have improved. Our kids today do tend to know more about a lot of things than their predecessors did. I am also sad to say that many things remain the same and some things are worse.
What’s great? Kids know energy drinks and caffeine are bad for them. Iced capps are wonderful for adults, but not for kids (170 mg caffeine). It was fun to teach them how energy drinks work – they force the body to release stored energy from the endocrine system, they do not ‘give’ anyone energy. It’s like driving a car to Calgary in first gear at 140 km/h with racing fuel. Sure, you feel really fast until the motor blows up!
Like most adults, kids had heard of proteins, fats and carbs, but didn’t really know what they were or how they worked. So it was really fun to explain them all with examples. Protein is like spare and replacement parts, carbohydrates are strictly fuel and energy and fat is fuel, and helps all the cells and fluids stay healthy including joints and the brain. We talked about how much of each thing and what examples are. Again, the kids were fairly informed.
Here’s the big thing that sadly has gotten worse in the last 18 years – kids (and adults – according to our new clients at the gym all the time) are skipping breakfast. What has changed is the reasoning. It used to be overwhelmingly because kids didn’t want to be fat and while that is still true they think that (and it’s still a lie), the number one reason was different. Over 80% of the kids said they always skipped breakfast and the reason was they didn’t have time.
I have to say I don’t buy it because I think they missed how important it is. So we talked about that at length because look, if the reason why is big enough, then ‘how’ doesn’t matter, you find a way.
So why breakfast? Why is it important? Why bother? Well first off, people think skipping breakfast means your body will burn fat right? Because there is nothing else available and hey, that would be preferred right?! Sorry, nope.
The body burns muscle before fat for several reasons. First, muscle is plugged in, it’s electric, it’s tied into the system and readily available to convert to fuel. It’s fast fuel the body can grab immediately, whereas fat takes longer and much more work to access, because it is inert. It is not plugged in, and just sits there. Plus (and this is even more important) when you do not feed yourself your body is convinced you cannot afford muscle because it is biologically expensive.
Muscle requires food like a big motor requires gas. If you bought a big ole truck with a massive motor and tires but refused to buy more than $5 a week in gas – if your truck acted like your body – it would trade that big motor in for a little tiny engine that was more fuel efficient, make you drive slowly and such. Your body does that too – skip breakfast and your metabolism slows, you cannot think well, you react slower, you are tired and want to go back to bed and you lose muscle. All these things are going the wrong direction. A lot of schools now have a breakfast program, but with budgets what they are, they never have enough protein for growing body’s and minds.
My son is not yet four and he knows how to make a protein shake with healthy choices in less than five minutes and drinks it out of his straw based sippy cup in about the same amount of time. If not a shake then boil a dozen eggs on Sunday and grab a hard boiled egg and some fruit on the way to school or work. What’s that, three minutes? How about cottage cheese with fruit, yogurt, muesli and nuts mixed the night before? Grab it out of the fridge and shovel it in. Zero morning prep required. Five minutes to eat. If you cannot find five minutes to eat before school, then re-read why it’s important.
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and the owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.