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Build on the Olympic Legacy: Teach Nutrition

Following the huge success of all the Team GB athletes at the London Olympics and the spotlight now being shone on the ‘legacy’ of developing future athletes, I would like to use my blog this month to raise the question of whether the government’s pledge (or lack thereof if you go by current news stories) on sports fields & school facilities are enough to help develop future talent?

‘What has this got to do with nutrition!?’ I hear you ask…stick with me!

Given the successes within a number of sports in recent weeks, why shouldn’t rugby capitalise on this and implement procedures that will help produce the next generation of World Cup winners?

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a GREAT number of factors that go in to developing athletes. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have first-hand experience of this at the top end of our sport. However, I strongly believe that it would make a lot of sense to invest a small amount of money to help younger children who want to take up a sport like rugby to improve their education in areas such as nutrition to maximise their abilities. This way, if we want to use rugby as an example, they have the necessary basic nutrition skills and education in place before they are old enough to get accepted in to the Academy set ups – ergo their performance, recovery etc. will already be relatively solid from a very young age.

Why not catch children at the EPDG (Elite Player Development Group) (and possibly even younger!) stages, so by the time they get to 18, they may be putting some of their more senior professionals to shame in terms of their nutritional standards?

Now, I am certainly not criticising or attacking the current set-up. I think that clubs’ community teams do an amazing job with the young athletes in terms of coaching and helping kids enjoy the game – I cannot speak more highly of them!

However, in my experience, nutrition is often an area that is left ‘neglected’ as either the finance or the expertise aren’t available to help with the education of the younger generation – and this helps highlight my point, that maybe a little investment in such areas wouldn’t hurt for athlete development?

This may well be happening in some clubs – I can’t speak for EVERY rugby club in the land & beyond, but I personally don’t think enough is being done at the younger end of the scale to put nutrition education in place.

Just to give you an example of how badly nutrition education has been neglected in a generation of children/teenagers, the other day I had a 21-year-old athlete that I work with (not mentioning their name or the sport they play) ask me ‘Where can I buy chicken breasts from?’ They genuinely didn’t have a clue! (And if I am honest, I am still struggling to pick my jaw up off the floor that at 21 they didn’t know to walk down the fresh meat aisle in the supermarket!)

Now, that is obviously quite an extreme example, but hopefully highlights that nutrition education for athletes IS needed from a young age to combat these sorts of problems arising – as I have said before, nutrition education should be available to EVERYONE in the game, not just in the elitist of elite environments!

Again, using rugby as the example, let’s have a look at the world leaders in the sport – the southern hemisphere teams. They invest heavily in ALL disciplines of support to their athletes, at all ages, including nutrition! Therefore it cannot come as a surprise to anyone that they keep producing world-class players & squad’s across all age groups year in, year out!

Overall, I strongly believe that following the successes of London 2012 that now is a prime opportunity for rugby to jump on the bandwagon and push-on in developing the next generation of exceptional talent.

I will keep banging this drum until the day I die – that nutrition education is a major contributing factor to helping achieve this, particularly within the younger wannabe athletes in helping to develop their sporting ability but also shaping their off-field habits and behaviour as well.

Research has shown time and time again the importance of nutrition in relation to sporting performance – so why not start athletes’ nutrition education off as early as possible and let them carry it throughout their career?

Just to give you a very rough idea of the sorts of educational tools I mean in relation to rugby nutrition in young athletes, have a quick look at this video that the young French Olympians receive here.

Your thoughts and comments on this topic are most welcome!!

By: Chris Curtis

You can follow me on Twitter: @nutrition_total
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Images taken from BBC News & GraphicsHunt

About ccurtis

Sports Nutritionist - who writes a monthly Rugby Nutrition blog for FindRugbyNow. Also at the moment work alongside West Ham FC Academy, have previously worked for Saracens, Newcastle Falcons and the RFU & England Rugby team Nutritionist. In addition, I run my own company (Total Nutrition Ltd.) that works alongside NHS/public health/education sectors educating communities (both children & adults) about the importance of nutrition. View all posts by ccurtis

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