Young Athletes and Nutrition
|by Jack A. Medina, M.A.
and Roy E. Vartabedian, Dr.P.H.
|November 10, 2008
It seems that proper nutrition for young
athletes is often either ignored or assumed
to be the same as for adult athlete
superstars; when in truth, it may be even
more important for children, given the fact
that young athletes are still growing. Young
athletes have different needs than adults
because of differences in their physiology
and metabolism. Unfortunately very little
nutrition research is done on young athletes
due to the ethical constraints of doing
invasive research on children. However, there
is enough available to provide good
recommendations as to what young athletes
need to put into their bodies.
The most important nutritional consideration
is that they get enough calories. This means
not just the calories needed to support their
athletic training, but the calories needed to
support their growth and maturation. In fact,
kids who don't get enough calories can be at
risk for short stature, delayed puberty,
menstrual irregularities, poor bone health,
and increased numbers of injuries.
example, kids' energy requirements for
walking, compared to adults, are 30% higher.
Unfortunately there is not enough current,
valid research about the exact calorie needs
of kids participating in sports. Parents need
to monitor their child's growth and body mass
and may need to consult a health professional
or dietitian who can use this information to
determine if the kids' needs are being met.
Another consideration is whether or not the
increased energy demand of athletic training
might interfere with a child's growth and
maturation. Parents and coaches need to watch
out for sports where weight control is
practiced--for example, gymnastics,
wrestling, running, weightlifting and power
lifting. If a reduction in body weight is
required, it should be no more than 1.5% of
the child's weight per week.
The types and amount of nutrients kids get is
as important as how much food. Carbohydrate
is a critical macronutrient for sports
performance. Kids have less glycogen (a
carbohydrate) stored in their muscles than
Be aware of carbohydrate loading (consuming
large amounts of carbohydrates before a big
race or event). This is common and helpful
for adults but is not recommended in young
athletes simply because there is no evidence
that it helps them. In addition, consuming
carbohydrate drinks during prolonged
endurance exercise may help athletic
performance in children as it does in adults;
a 6% carbohydrate solution, common in sports
drinks, is the most appropriate way to keep
children hydrated, supply them with
carbohydrate, and minimize the risk of
Good Carbs/Bad Carbs: Kids NutriHeroes/NutriZeroes
Kids burn more fat during exercise than
adults do, but this doesn't mean they should
be eating more fat. Their fat intake should
follow the standard guideline for the public
which is 25 to 35% of calories, with less
than 10% coming from saturated fat.
Children and teenagers need more protein than
adults, simply because they are still
growing. There hasn't been much research on
the protein needs of young athletes. If they
are eating enough calories, chances are they
are getting enough protein too. Still, the
recommendations for adult athletes (about 0.8
grams per pound of body weight) will work for
children as well.
You should really pay attention to two
micronutrients: iron and calcium. Iron
deficiency is common in athletes,
particularly teenage female athletes due to
menstrual losses. If iron is to low, it means
that the blood carries less oxygen which can
impair muscle metabolism and menstrual
function. Increasing dietary sources of iron
(green leafy vegetables and/or lean red meat)
When calcium intake is too low it can impair
bone development and increase the risk of
stress fractures (spinach and/or dairy
products) can help. The recommended calcium
intake for kids 9-18 years of age is 1,300
milligrams per day.
Supplements and Kids
Kids are often drawn to supplements because
of the hype, claims, promises and
testimonials about improved performance.
However, there is NO evidence that they will
Creatine monohydrate is a popular supplement
among young athletes. There isn't much
research available on youth taking this
supplement and the American College of Sports
Medicine (ACSM) does not recommend creatine
for people younger than 18 years of age.
One supplement we DO recommend for kids is Juice
Plus+® and JP+
Gummies®. They supply the whole-food
nutrition from 15 fruits and vegetables, and
2 grains (which many children do not eat
enough of) and increase the nutrient density
of their diets.
Dehydration may not only impair performance,
but can be dangerous. Youngsters do not
regulate their body heat as well as adults
because they don't sweat as much. As a result
they acclimate to heat more slowly, and they
have a greater increase in core temperature.
Most kids do not drink enough fluids during
exercise, should drink enough to match the
weight lost in sweat, and should avoid or
limit exercise in very hot and humid
Don't let advertising, hype, and claims
without scientific fact be your guide. Let
science be your guide and excellence will follow!
(Original Research: Meyer, F., et al.
"Nutrition for the young athlete." Journal
of Sports Sciences 25:S73-82, 2007.)
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Yours for fitness and health,
Jack A. Medina, M.A.
Roy E. Vartabedian, Dr.P.H.
Designs for Fitness & Wellness
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