A topic we routinely discuss and get asked about from parents of young athletes is proper nutrition and the use of supplements. Especially in today’s competitive environment where all athletes are looking for an “edge,” young athletes are often exposed to special diets and supplements. We find that there is a great deal of misinformation in this area, and many of these diets and products do not live up to their claims. Athletes should focus instead on following the basics of proper hydration and nutrition. Both are crucial in supporting growth and athletic performance. The following is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about proper nutrition and supplement use.
Athletes can lose body fluids very quickly, so they must make sure they are always well hydrated. Thirst is not a good gauge of fluid needs, and waiting until you are thirsty to drink can decrease athletic performance.
Carbohydrates contain the fuel the body needs to perform and also protect muscle tissue from breaking down. Athletes should have a carbohydrate-rich meal 3 to 4 hours before exercise and a high-carbohydrate snack about 1 hour before exercise. Athletes should also have a carbohydrate snack as soon as possible working out. This replenishes energy in the muscles, which provides fuel for the next day’s training session. This is especially important for athletes who are training almost every day. Children don’t need extra carbohydrates if they are drinking sports drinks (which already contain some carbohydrates).
Proteins contain the building blocks the body uses to recover after workouts and to repair injury. Protein should be spread throughout the day, especially in the 24 to 48 hours after a hard workout. A little bit of protein in the post-workout snack may also help with recovery. Athletes have greater protein needs than non-athletes. However, they should be able to meet these needs with a balanced diet. Vegetarians and athletes who are trying to lose weight may need to add protein to their diets. It can be beneficial to meet with a nutritionist for additional guidance.
Vitamins and minerals
Most athletes can easily meet most of their vitamin and mineral needs, as long as they are getting enough calories from a variety of different foods. There is no benefit to getting extra amounts of any vitamin or mineral. However, athletes should talk with their doctor about iron, calcium, and vitamin D.
It is important to remember that diet supplements are not tested and regulated like prescription drug products. Problems with safety, contamination, and quality are common with these products, even if purchased from a reliable source. Popular supplements in young athletes include “weight gain,” protein, and vitamin/mineral supplements.
Weight gain supplements are basically protein supplements with added calories. When used as directed, they often result in greater increases in fat than in muscle.
Protein supplements often contain either a soy- or whey-based protein and are of similar quality to complete proteins obtained in meat, dairy, or soy products. In young athletes, nutritional needs are best met by a balanced diet, rather than with supplements.
Remember that the information contained in this article should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
For more information about this topic or to schedule a check-up for your child, visit www.ppvkids.com to find the PPV location closest to you.
Other helpful nutrition resources:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org)
US Department of Agriculture and other federal government agencies
www.nutritition.gov (includes information about the new food group symbol, MyPlate, which replaced MyPyramid)
Nutrition and Supplement Use. (2015, November 24). Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Nutrition-and-Supplement-Use.aspx
Care of the Young Athlete Patient Education Handouts (© 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)