My 13-y-o only eats cookies and exercises all the time

All Woman

Dear Donovan,

My 13-year-old exercises all the time — she is on the swim team at school and so she trains two days per week, and every night she does push-ups, sit-ups and stretches before bed. I'm a bit concerned because she was never overweight; in fact she is on the smaller end of the weight scale – 86 pounds at five feet tall.

Her diet isn't exactly healthy either, she only eats Oreos and, except for carrots and broccoli, won't eat any vegetables. Plus she won't eat rice, just pasta and protein.

Is this rigorous exercise healthy for someone of her stature? I'm worried that she might be overdoing it. I'm not worried about any eating disorders by the way, just that her diet and exercise habits don't equal out.

Exercise, at any age, is always good to keep fit and promote good health. However, exercise must be balanced by proper nutrition in order to get maximum benefits.

It is a known fact that exercise promotes the increase of feel-good hormones in the brain, and it also helps to reduce stress. There is no doubt in my mind that some individuals can become addicted to exercise.

Additionally, there is a saying, “Practice makes perfect”, so it is easier for her to continue to do exercises rather than stop.

However, I share your concerns because she is not eating properly. In her case, it is not just getting the proper sports bra, shoes and clothes for exercise — she also needs the proper diet to fuel her vigorous exercise programme.

I would definitely suggest you speak with her or go with her to a professional who could speak with her. Also, the fact that she is on the small side, her diet must be examined.

What is eaten before and after a workout is crucial. If your daughter is going to exercise hard, it is important that she fuels up her body before exercising. Not eating enough before a workout can lead to dizziness and lethargy. In addition, not eating properly or enough can also increase the chances of becoming injured.

The time at which food is eaten is also crucial. It is best to eat half an hour to three hours before exercising.

Carbohydrates are good to eat because they produce glucose, which helps to power up the muscles. However, it is important to choose good sources of carbohydrates, for example, fruits, oatmeal, brown rice, ground provision, starchy vegetables, etc.

Additionally, eating some protein before exercising is also important. When vigorous muscle-building exercises are done, small tears in the muscle fibres are often created. During our rest periods, the body repairs these tears as well as builds the muscles and makes them bigger. However, it should be noted that it is better to use protein sources that are easy to digest. These include yogurt, eggs, nuts, etc.

Overall, there is no need to eat large amounts of protein. Also, replacing calories that have been burnt as well as topping up glucose that was used up during exercise, are crucial.

Eating food that will allow the body to repair its muscle is also important. It is therefore important to put some carbohydrates and protein into your diet after exercising.

Based on the desired goal, the amount of calories burnt will have to be adjusted with the intake of calories. For example, if your daughter would like to put on some weight, she will have to take in more calories than she burns during exercise. It is also important to hydrate the body before, during, and after exercise.

It is normally recommended to drink one to two cups , two to three hours before exercise. If the body becomes dehydrated, you can become sick. It is not a bad idea to put lime or lemon in the drinking water as well. This will help to improve the immune system by providing vitamin C.

It should be noted that exercise does put some stress on the body, which can impact the immune system. Overall, keeping hydrated on other liquids, such as coconut water and fruit juice, may be a good idea for your daughter.

I think the challenge for your daughter is to eat healthy and possibly increase her calorie intake so she can put on a little weight. Instead of pasta, it might be better for her to eat more brown rice and ground provision. It would also be good if she could add more fruits, vegetables and vegetable juices to her diet.

Good luck!

We will answer your weight-related questions

Are you struggling to lose weight or just need some advice on living a healthier life? Tell us about your health issues and we'll have nutritionist and wellness coach Donovan Grant answer them for you. Grant has over 12 years' experience in the fitness industry and is the owner of DG's Nutrition and Wellness Centre, 39 Lady Musgrave Road. Call him at 876-286-1363. E-mail questions to clarkep@jamaicaobserver.com.

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