The Six Nutrients Your Body Needs Every Day

Here at Play Like a Girl we are always thinking about what we should to be doing to be the best versions of ourselves. Healthy eating is an important part of this pursuit. Good nutrition affects our sleep, academic and athletic performance, and overall emotional wellbeing. 

We all need to eat every single day to live. However, not many of us stop to think about the science behind what we put into our bodies. Below are the six essential nutrients and why we need them: 


Vitamins are organic (containing carbon) compounds that all life forms need in small amounts. There are 13 different kinds of vitamins which perform hundreds of roles within the body. They are necessary for immune function, maintaining energy levels, repairing cellular damage, and more.  Vitamins are essential micronutrients that the body cannot produce sufficiently on its own, so we must consume them in our food. Consuming a wide range of vegetables, meat, and dairy is the best way to ensure that you're getting enough of all the vitamins you need. 


Minerals are another type of micronutrient. They are different from vitamins because they are not organic. Major minerals include potassium, calcium, iron, and more. They are important because they are an important ingredient in all of the chemical reactions that occur in our bodies. Reactions that balance water levels within cells, strengthen bones, carry oxygen throughout the body, and maintain blood pressure all make use of minerals. You can make sure you are getting all your minerals by consuming meat, seafood, leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, and/or beans and legumes. 


Protein is an essential nutrient that every cell in the body requires. It is often referred to as the building block of the body; the body uses protein to build and repair itself. Protein provides essential structural support in bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, and blood, as well as enzymes, hormones, and other chemicals within the body. You can find protein in meat, fish, eggs, beans, and peas. 


Fats store energy, protect organs, act as messengers, help proteins function, and start essential chemical reactions in the body. The cycle the body undergoes to make, break, and store fats is how it regulates energy levels. Fats provide structural support to organs and proteins and help the body store certain vitamins and minerals. Fats do not mix with water, making them an essential component of cell membranes and other tissues within the body. You can get the healthy fats that you need in nuts, fish, vegetable oil, seeds, and our favorite -- avocados. 


Water is the most essential nutrient we all need. Every single cell in the body requires water to function, as it is an essential component in the chemical reactions required to generate energy. Water is also involved in nearly every chemical process within the body. It helps flush out toxins, aid in digestion, maintain brain function, and more. It is important to drink at least 64 ounces or half your body weight in water each day. This is especially important for the athlete in all us who should be exercising or moving outside in the heat and sun.


Carbohydrates provide energy to all of the cells and tissues within the body. The body breaks down carbohydrates, releasing energy that is stored in them in the process. This energy fuels all other chemical reactions within the body. If you want to exercise, think, or even just sleep, your body needs energy from carbohydrates. You can get carbohydrates from quinoa, brown rice, whole grain breads and pasta, and fruit.

Healthy eating and understanding why it is important is the first step to becoming a successful, empowered woman. Play Like a Girl encourages all girls to consider the science at play, each time you eat. 


Helping Girls Develop Healthy Eating Habits

Hockey, soccer and volleyball are but a few of the endless sports available to keep girls active. Participation in recreational or competitive sports at a young age helps develop skills, confidence, good health and fitness, as well as helps to reduce risks for obesity and obesity-related diseases.

Adolescence is a critical period for physical growth and development--especially for girls. While sport is healthful in so many ways, it’s vital that young athletes consume enough dietary fuel for the extra energy demands. Furthermore, the timing of meals and snacks can be a challenge when scheduling school, homework, training and competition.

The constant cycle of practicing, playing, winning, losing and doing it again can be especially emotional for young athletes. Food is a quick, easy and accessible emotional bandage for the anxious, depressed or overwhelmed athlete. Parents can help their young athletes develop healthy eating habits by encouraging them to listen to their bodies. If girls eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full, they’ll let their bodies--not their emotions--dictate how much they eat.

Define healthy.
Discuss food (and beverages) as fuel for your athlete daughter. In the words of Catherine Steiner-Adair: ‘There is fuel, and there is fun. Some foods are fun but don’t give your body fuel and in fact might slow your body down. If you eat a lot of sugar, a little while later you may crash and become tired and crabby. And just like a car needs gasoline, your body needs good fuel to keep it running well. That’s why we eat healthy food at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.’

Teach variety.
Explain to your girl why she needs a range of choices to stay healthy. Eating well is key to support every athlete’s training program. Encourage her to eat wholesome foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains (e.g. brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain breads, etc.). Involving her in the process of menu planning, food selection and meal preparation may increase the likelihood that she consumes a nutritionally sound and varied diet.

Eat together.
Even when your schedules are tight, sit down and eat together as a family as often as possible. Research shows a positive connection between families who enjoy dinner together and girls who are confident, do well in school and have better relationships with their peers.

Stock healthy snacks.
Keep a variety of healthy snacks readily available. Store the snacks in a place where your young'uns can reach them, so that even the youngest can begin to make her own healthy choices about food. This helps girls learn to eat when their bodies tell them they are hungry, and not eat when they’re not.

Never use food to punish or reward.
Find ways other than eating to bond with your daughter. You can celebrate a victory without food — go for a walk together or sit down for tea, and let her know how proud you are of her. While it's unrealistic to never eat to celebrate, it is possible to find other ways as well. Remember, you're her first real role model.