Why and How is Young Athlete Nutrition Unique?

Why and How is Young Athlete Nutrition Unique?

Do you have kids who play lots of sport? You may be constantly wondering how much to give in to those hungry appetites. I know my girls are always looking for food! Young athlete nutrition is unique. It is therefore important to understand to ensure your sporty kids are meeting their daily needs.

Why is Young Athlete Nutrition Important?

Young athlete nutrition is critical for normal growth and development. But did you know that it is also a major contributor to enhancing sporting performance 1 and reducing injury? 2

Why and How is Young Athlete Nutrition Unique?

Why is Young Athlete Nutrition Unique?

Young athlete nutrition is unique because daily requirements are different to both sedentary peers and adult athletes.

Differs From Sedentary Children

Whilst there is plenty of research and information about nutritional needs for children in general, there is not much focus on the specific nutritional needs of athletic children.

In addition to the nutritional requirements of their sedentary peers to maintain normal developmental growth and maturation, young athletes require additional nutrition to provide fuel for energy and for proper recovery from exercise. 3

Why Young Athlete Nutrition Differs From Athlete Adults

Did you know that most sports nutrition recommendations for young athletes are based on findings in adult populations 4 rather than on direct research of this group itself? 5 Much of this is due to the ethical restrictions concerning collating data from children where muscle biopsies and tests involving exercise to failure are required.

Even though this may be starting point, research has shown that there are key differences in the energy expenditure rates and metabolism of adolescent athletes. Therefore their nutritional needs may differ from adult athletes 6. Key differences include:

  • There is no need to provide nutrition for physical growth and development in adult athletes. It is however, essential for young athletes.
  • Young athletes have smaller glycogen stores and have a limited glycolytic capacity. 7 Simplified, this essentially means that children have less capacity than adults to store carbohydrates for fuel.
  • Young athletes may have a greater capacity to oxidise fat and rely more on fat as a fuel. 8
  • Young athletes have different thermoregulation rates than adult athletes. 9 10 Thermoregulation is the ability to maintain the core body temperature. This difference is due to several factors including:
    1. Young athletes have a higher body surface area to mass ratio. This can then result in excessive heat gain in extreme heat and excessive heat loss in the cold. 11
    2. Children have a higher rate of energy expenditure until near the end of puberty, relative to adults at similar workloads. 12 This means that they produce more heat per unit body mass than adults.
    3. Young athletes usually do not sweat as much as adult athletes. 13
    4. Children generate greater heat production during exercise but have less ability to transfer heat from the muscle to skin. 14
    5. Young athletes can take up to 5 to 6 times longer to acclimatise to exercising in heat than adults. 15

 

How is Young Athlete Nutrition Unique?

So how does this then translate to differences in nutritional requirements?

Different to Sedentary Children

  • Young athletes have been shown to require increased protein and carbohydrates than their non-exercising peers. This is because of the additional energy expenditures relating to training and competition and recovery needs. 16
  • Young athletes who train hard and therefore sweat more than their sedentary peers will require increased hydration. They also then need greater sodium and potassium to replace these lost micronutrients. 17

Different to Adult Athletes

  • Young athletes may require fewer carbohydrates than adults athletes. This is because they have limited ability to store large amounts of carbohydrate in their muscles. Carbohydrate loading techniques commonly used by adult athletes in the lead up to races are therefore less likely to benefit young athletes.
  • Young athletes have a greater need for protein than adult athletes to support growth and development. 18
  • Hydration is of greater importance to young athletes as they are more at risk of developing dehydration and hyperthermia. This is a result of several factors including their increased risk of overheating during exercise due to the difference in thermoregulation rates to adults (as listed above). 19 20 They must ensure fluids are taken throughout the day and during exercise.
  • Young athletes require a greater level of certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) than adult athletes to support growth and development.  Calcium requirements for bone development are highest during adolescence.21 22 More iron is also required during adolescence to support growth as well as lean muscle mass and blood volume. 23

 

So in practical terms, what do you need to do?

When feeding your young athletes, remember these key points:

  1. Kids in sport need additional nutrition to sedentary children. Fuel before training and recovery after exercise is an important part of maximising performance and reducing injury.
  2. Pre-race carbohydrate loading is not necessary as it has limited benefits to young athletes. Children and adolescents use less carbohydrate and more fat during exercise than adults.
  3. Children need a greater amount of protein relative to their body weight than adults do as they are still growing. Keep an eye on levels of protein intake and continued growth and development of your child. Note that the required protein levels can be adequately met through whole foods for healthy young athletes. There is no need for protein powders and supplements.
  4. Also be particularly conscious of providing adequately for the greater need for calcium for bone development, iron, zinc and other vitamins and minerals not only for growth and maturation but for the additional needs associated with training.
  5. Finally, encourage good hydration both before and after training.

 

How and Why is Young Athlete Nutrition Unique?

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References

Show 23 footnotes

  1. Beck KL et al, “Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and post exercise recovery.“ Open Access J Sports Med. 2015 Aug 11 PMID:26316828
  2. Petrie HJ et al. (2004). Nutritional concerns for the child and adolescent competitor. Nutrition 20:620-631
  3. J. W. Smith and A. Jeukendrup, “Performance nutrition for young athletes,” in Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance: Muscle Building, Endurance, and Strength, S. D. N. Bagchi and C. K. Sen, Eds., pp. 523–529, Elsevier, 2013.
  4. Jeukendrup A, Cronin L 2011 “Nutrition and elite young athletes. “PMID: 21178366
  5. JohnEricW. Smith et al 2015, “Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes” Journal of Sports Medicine Volume 2015, Article ID 734649
  6. JohnEricW. Smith et al 2015, “Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes” Journal of Sports Medicine Volume 2015, Article ID 734649
  7. Jeukendrup A,Cronin L 2011 “Nutrition and elite young athletes. “PMID: 21178366
  8. Jeukendrup A,Cronin L 2011 “Nutrition and elite young athletes. “PMID: 21178366
  9. Petrie HJ et al. (2004). Nutritional concerns for the child and adolescent competitor. Nutrition 20:620-631
  10. Falk, “Children’s thermoregulation during exercise in the heat: a revisit” 2008 Apr;33(2):420-7 PMID:18347699
  11. Hoch et al, 2008, “Nutritional requirements of the child and teenage athlete.” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 19(2):373-98
  12.  J. W. Smith and A. Jeukendrup, “Performance nutrition for young athletes,” in Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance: Muscle Building, Endurance, and Strength, S. D. N. Bagchi and C. K. Sen, Eds., pp. 523–529, Elsevier, 2013.
  13. J. W. Smith and A. Jeukendrup, “Performance nutrition for young athletes,” in Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance: Muscle Building, Endurance, and Strength, S. D. N. Bagchi and C. K. Sen, Eds., pp. 523–529, Elsevier, 2013.
  14. Falk et al, “Children’s thermoregulation during exercise in the heat: a revisit” 2008 Apr;33(2):420-7 PMID:18347699
  15. Hoch et al, 2008, “Nutritional requirements of the child and teenage athlete.” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 19(2):373-98
  16. J. W. Smith and A. Jeukendrup, “Performance nutrition for young athletes,” in Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance: Muscle Building, Endurance, and Strength, S. D. N. Bagchi and C. K. Sen, Eds., pp. 523–529, Elsevier, 2013.
  17. JohnEricW. Smith et al 2015, “Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes” Journal of Sports Medicine Volume 2015, Article ID 734649
  18. Oded Bar-Or, 2001” Nutritional Considerations for the Child Athlete“ Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2001, 26(S1): S186-S191, 10.1139/h2001-053
  19. Petrie HJ et al. (2004). Nutritional concerns for the child and adolescent competitor. Nutrition 20:620-631
  20. Falk, “Children’s thermoregulation during exercise in the heat: a revisit” 2008 Apr;33(2):420-7 PMID:18347699
  21. Oded Bar-Or, 2001” Nutritional Considerations for the Child Athlete“ Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2001, 26(S1): S186-S191, 10.1139/h2001-053
  22. JohnEricW. Smith et al 2015, “Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes” Journal of Sports Medicine Volume 2015, Article ID 734649
  23. Hoch et al, 2008, “Nutritional requirements of the child and teenage athlete.” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 19(2):373-98

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