Eat well, live well

Phil Mann at Reigate Grammar School, explains why good nutrition is vital for athletes, but it’s a life choice for pupils

At Reigate Grammar School (RGS), our pupils are very fortunate. The school is renowned for its sport and prowess on the games field and many of our coaches have been top-level competitors. Our aim is to provide all students with a sports programme that will foster a lifelong involvement. 

We have a strong history of supporting the development of talented sportsmen and women, with a large number of our students going on to represent their counties, region and country in a wide variety of sports, many of them via our sports scholarship programme.

But whether they’re destined to develop into elite sportsmen and sportswomen or simply enjoy sport for its own sake, and for the comradeship, fun and ‘feel-good’ factor it offers, our young people need to have the right fuel on board if they’re to perform to the best of their ability. Put simply, we believe that educating our students about nutrition is key not just to sport but to life in general. It’s nothing less than a life choice and this is the time to get our pupils on the right track as far as food is concerned.

All our students see and eat the best in nutritional food every day: the dining hall has a huge salad bar and serves wraps and all manner of healthy dishes. When it comes to our elite sports, students could be working with a professional club or coaching organisation, it’s a question of good communication with our catering manager to ensure the right dishes are available. But even if an elite student is following a particular dietary plan, they tend to find what they need is already on offer in the dining hall.

For us, nutrition is a whole-school approach. In the classroom, nutritional education is delivered through PHSE and Food Technology GCSE as well as sports studies at GCSE and A-level and nutrition lectures.

But that’s just the start. We like to get our students into the school kitchen, learning how to make healthy snacks. For example, smoothies are ideal for getting some post-exercise fuel on board for students who don’t necessarily want a big meal.

Like every other school in the country, we know that teenage girls are often very concerned about how others perceive them, particularly in relation to their weight. We talk to them about the need to put the right fuel in their bodies. This isn’t just about sport: there’s no doubt that the right diet aids concentration in the classroom too.

This year our under-16 female hockey players have finished in the top 15 in the country, which is a fantastic achievement. But we needed to work hard to allay their fears that pre-eating for their matches would cause them to put on weight. They need to know that they’re going to burn huge amounts of calories on match days, so they need a big carbohydrate meal the night before and quick-release energy on the day itself.

The final piece to fit in the puzzle is the parents: their support on nutrition is really crucial. There’s no point in the school driving the right messages home if they’re not reinforced at home – although, luckily for us, our parents do a fantastic job in supporting their children. 

Just as with the pupils, outside speakers can often be really powerful advocates when we want to communicate with parents on a particular topic. We recently invited a member of the British Olympic Association to the school to address parents on nutrition and we distributed her PowerPoint presentation to them afterwards. 

But while good nutrition is essential to sport, we want all our students to take what they learn about healthy eating beyond school and pass it on to their sons and daughters. It’s a life lesson.  


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