Good nutrition is important for young athletes and is essential for health, performance, and normal growth.
Amanda Leonard, M.P.H., R.D., a pediatric sports nutritionist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, recommends a young athlete’s diet should contain 20-30% calories from fat, 50-65% calories from carbohydrates, and 15-20% from protein. She also says that endurance training increases the amount of required carbohydrates and protein, and strength training increases the body’s need for protein.
Leonard says “I always remind parents: For children and teens the focus should be optimal health, not optimal performance. With optimal health, comes optimal performance. It really is that simple.”
She also mentions that young athletes typically do not require dietary supplements. A healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and maybe a multivitamin should provide excellent nutrition for an active young athlete.
Leonard warns that dehydration is common for children playing sports, especially during the summer; however, mild dehydration may go unnoticed. Younger children are more prone to dehydration because their bodies produce more heat and sweat less. For young athletes to stay hydrated, Leonard recommends water. Activities that last less than 60 minutes do not require electrolytes; therefore, electrolyte-enriched sports drinks are not necessary.
She gives the following tips to avoid dehydration:
Before exercise, drink 4 to 8 ounces
During activity, drink 4 ounces every 15 minutes
After exercise, drink 16 to 24 ounces per every pound lost
Symptoms of dehydration include muscle cramps, dry mouth and severe thirst, reduced sweating and urination, headache and dizziness.
Another common problem among both girls and boys are eating disorders. This is especially true for those that compete in sports with weight categories (wrestling and rowing) or sports where appearance is emphasized (skating and gymnastics). Some signs of an eating disorder include obsessing about weight and appearance, drastic weight loss, and excessive exercise. Eating disorders can cause loss of periods in menstruating girls, osteoporosis, teeth erosion, delayed puberty and stunted growth.
I agree with most of what she recommends. I think the recommend percentage of protein is a little low and the carbohydrates high. However, as long as the all sources of food are nutritious and healthy, then this diet should be adequate for a young athlete’s needs. Just keeping your kids (and yourself) away from junk food is a great step.