Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Young athletes often try special diets and supplements to improve their athletic performance. However, many of these products do not live up to their claims to increase strength, speed, and athletic skills. 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 rapidly, so they must make sure they are always well hydrated. Thirst is not a good gauge of fluid needs, and waiting until 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. For exercise lasting longer than 1 hour, eating carbohydrates during exercise is helpful as well. Good sources of carbohydrates include rice, beans, spaghetti, whole wheat bread, dried apricots, apples, bananas, yogurt, or baked potatoes.
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. Good sources of protein include lean beef, chicken, turkey breast, fish, eggs, beans, low-fat cottage cheese, milk, or cheddar cheese.
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.
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