Participating in athletics is one of the best ways for both kids and adults to stay in shape. But when it comes to replenishing energy via food and drink, youth athlete nutrition varies greatly from that of sports nutrition for adults. It needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that kids are getting everything they need to not only recover from exercise, but also continue supplying their bodies with nutrients essential for growth.
Left to their own devices, many kids’ idea of sports nutrition is to attempt to replenish their energy stores via short-term fixes such as food high in sugar, soft drinks or energy drinks. Not only can this cause them to “crash and burn” later on when the short-term energy runs out, it can also poorly affect their overall health and ability to develop properly.
While the body of an adult seeks to replenish the protein, carbohydrates and fluids lost during a workout session, the key to youth athlete nutrition is that a child a must build those reserves back up and then some, to give chemical processes the fuel they need. Eating balanced, nutrient-rich diets is the backbone of sports nutrition and is essential to the health and performance levels of youth athletes.
The most important nutrition sources for a child are protein, carbohydrates, fat and fluids. Not getting enough of any of those four can stunt a youth athlete’s competitive performance and overall health. Proteins are essential to muscle recovery, carbs provide much of the actual energy to perform athletic activities and fat is needed to help kids grow.
One of the big differences between youth sports nutrition and sports nutrition for adults is how they get the two groups get their energy to exercise. Some studies show that kids derive more energy from fats then from carbohydrates, meaning they should have good reserves of fats when preparing to engage in long physical activities, while adults are known to use far more carbs for energy.
Another thing to consider is that children’s bodies are constantly growing, and need nutrients that support these endeavors.
Calcium is a vital nutrient for children as it helps build and strengthen bones, making dairy products and leafy, green vegetables a big part of youth athlete nutrition, while they can be billed as more of a “good idea” for adults.
Another key difference between sports nutrition for youth athletes as opposed to adults is in hydration and awareness of it. Many youth athletes will dehydrate without realizing it, particularly if they live in hot or humid climates and are exercising for longer periods of time without really thinking about it.
This is called voluntary dehydration, and can be dangerous for youth athletes trying to recover from forms of exercise where they lose track of time. While sports drinks like Gatorade can restore electrolytes, there’s simply no replacement for good, old-fashioned water to give the body what it is craving.
Coaches and parents should both be very aware that youth athletes are properly hydrated not only after the competition ends, but before it as well, and throughout the week as they train or practice. In essence, the rules on hydration are much like the rules of youth athlete nutrition for coaches and parents, be prepared, be smart and be able to read the signs that your child Is getting enough nutrients to keep their bodies running in tip-top shape.