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Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes: Should Supplements Be Considered

Many athletes require dietary modifications in order to maximize performance and meet body weight requirements for competitive activities. Feeding young athletes requires knowledge and planning and the subject of supplements will often arise. Proper nutrition is vital as youth athletes require nutritional diet for fueling during sports, quick recovery after training and to meet energy […]

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Sandrine Soubeyrand (2nd L) of France and Aya Miyama (R) of Japan shake hands prior to the Women's Football Semi Final match between France and Japan on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at at Wembley Stadium on August 6, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Joern Pollex - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Sandrine Soubeyrand (2nd L) of France and Aya Miyama (R) of Japan shake hands prior to the Women's Football Semi Final match between France and Japan on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at at Wembley Stadium on August 6, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Joern Pollex - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Many athletes require dietary modifications in order to maximize performance and meet body weight requirements for competitive activities. Feeding young athletes requires knowledge and planning and the subject of supplements will often arise. Proper nutrition is vital as youth athletes require nutritional diet for fueling during sports, quick recovery after training and to meet energy levels needed for proper growth and maturity. Supplements are good for helping meet nutrition requirements in young athletes so they can experience the best performance especially if they are engaged in high levels of physical activities.

Reasons why young athletes need supplements

Growth and maturity potential

Our body requires mineral and vitamins to grow but athletes have a higher nutrition demand. Young athletes require building blocks which come from food to enable them to develop strong, lean and powerful bodies and supplements can help them meet these needs. Proteins act as the main structural component of muscles, organs, bones, tendons and other tissues. However, the average youth diet is unbalanced and deficient in nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables which are the sources of key nutrients. These nutrients include magnesium, vitamin A and C, potassium and folic acid. Young athletes require supplements that are rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals to help them in their growth or while training at a high level.

Cognitive development and Brain health

Cognitive development and brain health are essential for young athletes. Nutrients and dietary supplements play a major role in cell membrane development throughout the body. They help athletes focus and concentrate on their sports and increases inflammatory response to exercise. Studies suggest that youth athletes should take omega 3 supplements or consume two weekly servings of fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Energy requirements

Sports nutrition enhances performance in athletes by decreasing fatigue, injury, optimizing training, recovery time and eliminating the risk of diseases. It is crucial to balance energy intake with energy expenditure to prevent energy excess or deficit. Energy excess in young athletes can cause obesity while energy deficit can result in delayed puberty, loss of muscle mass increased susceptibility to fatigue, illness, and injury. They need extra calories during growth spurts and to replenish energy used up during an activity.

Performance enhancing supplements for young athletes

Proteins and creatin

Young athletes seem to have elevated demands for dietary proteins intake. But if they are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet they do not need protein supplements and would not benefit from them. Athletes who expend more energy eat more and hence increase their protein intake. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American dietician Association recommends protein intakes between 1.2 and 1.8kg of body mass which is an adequate requirement for active youth athletes. Recent studies suggest that two to three times the RDA for proteins intakes may be optimal during periods of caloric restriction commonly practiced by athletes to enhance fat-free mass. Studies show that creatin does not offer additional benefits or improve sports performance in younger athletes.

Hydration

Hydration affects sports performance more than any other nutritional requirements. Studies show that children are able to get rid of heat quicker than adults because they have a higher ratio of body surface area to body mass. Adults and youth who are hydrated before an activity often experience the reduced energy, cognitive impairment, and diminished endurance. It is essential to hydrate before training and after and an event to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through sweating.

Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are illegal drugs taken without a doctor’s prescription. Most athletes use steroids in sports to enhance muscle size and strength while others just want to appear more muscular. Youth athletes need to be aware of the possible sides associated with such supplements which include stunted growth in children and teens, severe and irreversible long-term heart problems, skin and other organs.

Vitamins and minerals

Young athletes do not need vitamins and mineral supplements if they are taking a healthy and well-balanced diet. Low iron levels result in decreased athletic performance but high iron levels or any other minerals and vitamins have not been proved to increase performance in sports.

Conclusion

There is not much research regarding nutritional needs of young athletes and is often primarily composed of investigation from young-adult differences. Parents and young athletes need to know that some supplements have been found to contain high rates of contamination and harmful substances. Also, many products do not contain the list of ingredients on the label. Young athletes need to learn what foods are good for energy, how to eat during an event and how to replenish after an event, and when to eat certain foods. They may benefit from meal planning with a registered dietician.

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