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Simply Fit, by Cindy Haskin-Popp, will help you make physical activity a part of everyday life. The health benefits of regular exercise and overall daily physical activity will be discussed. Fun, practical and easy-to-follow tips on an exercise program will be shared, as will the most current research. Fitness tips for families and seniors, on fitness centers and on buying proper and affordable equipment will be regularly given. 

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nourishing the Adolescent Athlete: What Parents and Coaches Should Know

A quick drive to the grocery store takes me past high school teams of various sports involved in pre-season training from runners to football players. Although participation in high school sports offers many physical advantages to the adolescent athlete (such as enhanced motor skills, muscle control and coordination, reflexes, strength, and aerobic capacity), it also presents unique challenges to the growing and developing body that need to be addressed for optimal health and performance. Just to sustain the nutritional needs of growth alone during this rapid period of development places great demands on the teen's body. Combine these needs with the nutritional requirements of physical activity and you create a unique situation that puts the adolescent child at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies and related health disorders.

Specific care needs to be taken to ensure that the teen athlete's diet not only contains enough calories to meet these extra demands, but that it provides nutrient-dense foods. This can prove to be a challenge when you factor in that teens as a whole are not the most compliant group when it comes to proper personal health care practices. Parents and coaches may opt to explain the importance of proper nutrition from a sport's performance perspective to help the adolescent athlete understand the need for adequate nutrition and to motivate them to make healthier food choices.

Consequences of a Poor Diet
  • Stunted growth
  • Impaired development of organ systems
  • Poor bone development which increases risk for developing osteoporosis as an adult
  • Increased risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia
  • Increased risk of illness and injury
  • Increased risk of bone fracture from low calcium intake
  • Fatigue/lack of energy
  • Greater risk for becoming dehydrated which, in turn, increases susceptibility to succumbing to a heat illness
  • Decreased performance in sports and in school
Who is at the Greatest Risk?
  • Female athletes who have the added pressure from society to be thin and so restrict calories to obtain that image.
  • Athletes who participate in sports that place an emphasis on appearance, small body size, and involve subjective scoring (e.g, gymnastics, figure skating, and diving).
  • Male wrestlers who have the pressure of meeting weight regulations and, therefore, go to extreme measures such as severely restricting caloric intake to make their weight class.
Diet Considerations for the Adolescent Athlete
  • Because of the enormous energy requirements for this population, less of an emphasis should be placed on the distribution of the calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat sources in comparison to the diet of adult athletes. Since fat offers the greatest concentration of energy (9 calories/gram compared to 4 calories/gram for protein and carbohydrate), consuming slightly greater amounts of fat can help the teen athlete meet his/her energy needs. The focus should be on the source of fat, ensuring that it mostly comes from mono-and poly-unsaturated fat sources as opposed to coming from saturated and transfatty foods. It is recommended that the fat intake be equal to about 30-35% of the total daily calories for the adolescent athlete. Because protein is needed for tissue repair and maintenance, it should account for approximately 15 % of the daily calories consumed by the young athlete, or 1.5 grams/kilogram of body weight.
  • Adequate amounts of calcium are necessary to promote bone health. Males and females ages 14-18 years need 1,300 mg/day.
  • Adequate amounts of iron are needed to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Males ages 14-18 years need 11 mg/day. Females ages 14-18 years need 15 mg/day.
  • The adolescent athlete should have frequent meals, occurring about every three hours.
  • Because teen athletes have a tendency to under-consume fluids, allowing them to drink sports beverages, which have flavor and sweetness making them more appealing, is acceptable to prevent dehydration.
Meal Suggestions for the Adolescent Athlete

  • Yogurt smoothie
  • Hard boiled egg and english muffin
  • String cheese and nuts
  • Whole grain bagel with peanut butter (if nut allergies are present try sunflower seed butter or cream cheese)
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Tuna fish salad on whole wheat pita bread
  • Whole grain rice and beans
  • Whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese
  • Lean turkey and cheese wrap
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Mixed greens salad with grilled chicken
  • Bean soup and whole grain crackers
  • Homemade pizza with low-fat cheese on a whole grain crust
  • Lean beef stir-fry
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Hummus dip with pita chips
  • Low-fat greek style yogurt and fruit
  • Cheese and whole wheat crackers
  • Carrots or celery with peanut butter
To ensure proper growth and development, the adolescent athlete should be assessed by a physician on a yearly basis (more often if warranted).

The Coaches Guide to Sports Nutrition, 2007; pp. 200-206; Benardot, D. and Thompson, W.R.

Food for Fitness - Eat Right to Train Right, 2004; pp. 215-233; Carmichael, C.

Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health; Fact Sheet on Calcium; Fact Sheet on Iron

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