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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Lea Stening talks about How to Grow an Athlete


Lea Stening is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with more than forty years’ experience specialising in sports nutrition and paediatrics. She has worked in all areas of school sporting codes and also nationally at high performance and academy levels including eight years with New Zealand Cricket, five years with New Zealand Rowing, and twelve years with New Zealand Paralympian sports. Lea talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about How to Grow an Athlete: From Playground to Podium and who you have written this book for.

I think all parents want their children to live heathy and happy lives and to reach their full potential, don’t they? While not all children will become athletes, the aim of this book is to help parents, caregivers, teachers, and coaches to encourage young people to be active, to eat well, to grow, to learn and to have fun.

The first half of the book deals with the day to day nutrition of children aged 5-18years. It sets out the quantities of key food groups and nutrients required for good health and growth along with practical tips to help children make changes to their eating habits if they are struggling.


Issues such as how to stabilize their energy levels, how to build strong muscles and bones improve learning, memory and mood are covered. Then focusing on sports nutrition the book shows how to modify children’s meals and snacks during times of greater need such as when they exercise, train and compete.


The second half of the book seeks to raise awareness of some of the health issues that can get in the way of children’s enjoyment of sport, their growth and development. Such things as weight management, diabetes, gut health, energy and iron deficiency, vegetarian and veganism, menstruation, sleep, mental health and wellness etc. For example what are some of the things that stop children within a family or sports groups from seeking help when they most need it? In an effort to build a better culture within the community and sporting environment the book provides team building exercises for coaches and sports dietitians. Activities such as a nutrition quiz to check nutrition knowledge, recipes for cooking meals and snacks, steps on how to run supermarket tours and to track hydration as well as sweat loss testing


I believe that If we can instil in our children a love of sport and healthy food while they are young and growing then we are assisting them to live a healthy life long into adulthood.

What inspired you to write this book?

Over my forty year career working as a Paediatric Dietitian with families and children I have witnessed huge changes in the food industry, the growth in sales of takeaways and the marketing of foods and beverages to children.

I was concerned about the lack of nutrition education in New Zealand schools and sports clubs especially during the formative years of primary and intermediate school. Research shows that many children are dropping out of sport by the age of 15 years. Over tired, over worked and often with injuries to carry into adult life. I wanted to offer practical solutions on how to fill the nutrient and energy gap when growing children exercise.


What research was involved?

This book took me three years research and to write and then a further 10 months of peer reviews, additions, editing before finally coming together towards the end of this year when it was decided to print the book in NZ rather than risking overseas delays due to Covid 19.


Care was taken to base the first half of the book on New Zealand and Australian Ministry of Health guidelines and reference values on the nutrient needs of growing children, while the second half on health issues was researched topic by topic. I worked through IOC reports relating to sport nutrition and injury prevention in developing athletes, medical and dietetic position papers and journal articles relating to child health issues. I also talked to school principals, home economics and PE teachers, sports physicians, dietitians and coaches about their concerns for child health and drew on experiences I had had with parents and children whom I had worked with.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I chose a book structure similar to that used in my successful Nutrition Manual for Developing Rowers published in 2005 with a Table of Contents, Sport Nutrition and Health Sections followed with Exercises for Coaches. This structure helped me set boundaries but even then the topic kept growing particularly over 2020-2021 when more research came to light during Covid on issues such as gut and mental health, menstruation, sleep and Vitamin D. With work and family commitments I found that 6-8am was my most creative time of day so I would start writing early. I was always ‘chipping away’ at the project. On ‘off’ days I would just gather information, set out charts or tables so that on ‘brighter days’ I was ready to cover new ground. I planned each day ahead, was continually making ‘to do’ lists, I maintained my own stamina by eating well, prioritising exercise and fluids.

I did hit a rough spot mid 2021 during Covid lockdowns when I started waking up in the middle of the night anxious I was taking too long to finish the book and fearful my work wouldn’t be ‘good enough’. My publisher reassured me I ‘had all the time in the world’ that my story was important and just to do my best. This approach worked well, I relaxed and peer reviews helped to keep me focused.


What are three top tips from the book?

  • Learn about the difference between feeling tired and being energy deficient

  • Fruits and vegetables are a rich sources of vitamins and minerals but what is their relevance to sporting performance and how can we encourage children to eat more of them?

  • Which nutrients protect our nerves and brain tissue, improve our sleep, mental health, our memory, learning and mood?

Quentin Wilson Publishing



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