Q: [School-Age] My son loves playing sports, but I want to make sure he is maintaining good nutrition. How can I make sure he is as healthy as possible in his eating and drinking?
A: Trying to figure out if your young athlete needs iron to boost performance? Uncertain if water or sports drinks are the best choice? Looking for healthy post-game snacks that assist in muscle recovery? Well you’ve come to the right place for practical answers to sports nutrition questions.
There are particular nutrition categories and vitamins/minerals that are of particular importance for adolescent athletes.
Protein: An athletic teen needs 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. Protein supplements are generally not recommended because the usual American diet supplies generous protein. Good sources of protein include: meat, fish, soy, peanut butter, eggs, dairy products, and beans.
Iron: Adequate iron intake is essential for optimal exercise and school performance. The US Recommended Daily Allowance is 16 mg of iron per day. Good sources include lean red meat (three times a week), dark chicken, fish, beans, eggs, iron-fortified cereals, and green vegetables.
Calcium and vitamin D: Boys and pre-adolescent girls need 1000 mg of calcium/day (four dairy servings). Adolescent girls need 1500 mg of calcium/day (six dairy servings). Each cup of milk, carton of yogurt, or chunk of cheese counts as a serving. Calcium + appropriate physical activity = maximal bone mass.
All children need at least 400 International Units of Vitamin D every day, while many athletes may need more for optimal health.
Fluids — A key nutritional supplement On a final note, probably the safest and most important nutritional supplements are fluids. Under-hydration causing a one pound weight loss may reduce athletic performance. Therefore, it is key to pre-hydrate before activity and have appropriate access to fluids during practice and games. Water is the best choice for all types and duration of exercise. However, for exercise lasting over an hour, there is an increased role for sports beverages to replace sugar and salts.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKIdMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), and the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network.