I was recently attending a seminar which discussed different issues pediatricians are faced on daily basis when they see young athletes. One of the issues that was brought to our attention was an adequate nutrition of a young athlete. With so many kids, including my own, trying to search for an edge in hopes of improving performance, proper nutrition is essential for success.
During each physical examination, your child’s weight and height is obtained and that gets plotted on a chart that helps to track their growth and identify any abnormalities that may arise due to nutrition or an underlying disease. Typically child gains around 5 pounds each year until 9 years of age, and grows 2-2 ½ inches per year until beginning of puberty. Nutritional needs prior to puberty are different from the period of rapid growth.
Prior to puberty, The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), an estimated caloric need for growth and development, is around 1800 -2000 Kcal/day and during adolescence it increases to 2200-3000 Kcal/day (depending if you are a male or female). Young athletes require higher RDA due to loss of energy during training. On average, it is recommended for an active athlete to get 1500-3000 Kcal/day more than recommended RDA depending on the level of training and sport. The data is extrapolated from adult studies.
Many sources that I have reviewed, agree, that to meet nutritional needs for physical activity and health, training diet should derive 55-60% of total energy from carbohydrate, 12%-15% from protein, and 25%-30% from fat. It is well known that body preferred energy source is carbohydrates, but the type of fuel will change with duration and intensity of activity. Intermittent sports such as basketball or football rely on glucose from store glycogen. Endurance sports such as bicycling or long distance runners use glucose from glycogen and then turn to fat. It been shown, if high carbohydrate food is consumed right after training increases muscle glycogen storage and improves recovery time.
Fueling up before training is beneficial in that it provides fuel for maximum training and an athlete is not hungry during activity. The following guidelines should be followed to avoid potential gastrointestinal discomfort:
The meal size should be reduced closer to practice time.
Always remind your athletes to stay hydrated before, during, after activity even if they do not feel thirsty. Water is the best source of fluid, it can be flavored for more demanding palates. Juices and carbonated soda drinks, should not be used as hydrating fluid during activity since they have high load of carbohydrate and may cause gastric discomfort, delayed gastric emptying, and delayed intestinal absorption due to high osmolality.
Give an edge to your growing athlete by providing him/her with proper nutrition that in return will improve their performance with perseverance.