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Young Athletes and Nutrition

by Jack A. Medina, M.A.

and Roy E. Vartabedian, Dr.P.H.

November 10, 2008


It seems that proper nutrition for young athletes is often either ignored or assumed to be the same as for adult athlete superstars; when in truth, it may be even more important for children, given the fact that young athletes are still growing. Young athletes have different needs than adults because of differences in their physiology and metabolism. Unfortunately very little nutrition research is done on young athletes due to the ethical constraints of doing invasive research on children. However, there is enough available to provide good recommendations as to what young athletes need to put into their bodies.

Jack Medina

The most important nutritional consideration is that they get enough calories. This means not just the calories needed to support their athletic training, but the calories needed to support their growth and maturation. In fact, kids who don't get enough calories can be at risk for short stature, delayed puberty, menstrual irregularities, poor bone health, and increased numbers of injuries.

For example, kids' energy requirements for walking, compared to adults, are 30% higher. Unfortunately there is not enough current, valid research about the exact calorie needs of kids participating in sports. Parents need to monitor their child's growth and body mass and may need to consult a health professional or dietitian who can use this information to determine if the kids' needs are being met.

Another consideration is whether or not the increased energy demand of athletic training might interfere with a child's growth and maturation. Parents and coaches need to watch out for sports where weight control is practiced--for example, gymnastics, wrestling, running, weightlifting and power lifting. If a reduction in body weight is required, it should be no more than 1.5% of the child's weight per week.


The types and amount of nutrients kids get is as important as how much food. Carbohydrate is a critical macronutrient for sports performance. Kids have less glycogen (a carbohydrate) stored in their muscles than adults.

Be aware of carbohydrate loading (consuming large amounts of carbohydrates before a big race or event). This is common and helpful for adults but is not recommended in young athletes simply because there is no evidence that it helps them. In addition, consuming carbohydrate drinks during prolonged endurance exercise may help athletic performance in children as it does in adults; a 6% carbohydrate solution, common in sports drinks, is the most appropriate way to keep children hydrated, supply them with carbohydrate, and minimize the risk of stomach upset.

Good Carbs/Bad Carbs: Kids NutriHeroes/NutriZeroes

Children Exercising
Fat Burn

Kids burn more fat during exercise than adults do, but this doesn't mean they should be eating more fat. Their fat intake should follow the standard guideline for the public which is 25 to 35% of calories, with less than 10% coming from saturated fat.


Children and teenagers need more protein than adults, simply because they are still growing. There hasn't been much research on the protein needs of young athletes. If they are eating enough calories, chances are they are getting enough protein too. Still, the recommendations for adult athletes (about 0.8 grams per pound of body weight) will work for children as well.


You should really pay attention to two micronutrients: iron and calcium. Iron deficiency is common in athletes, particularly teenage female athletes due to menstrual losses. If iron is to low, it means that the blood carries less oxygen which can impair muscle metabolism and menstrual function. Increasing dietary sources of iron (green leafy vegetables and/or lean red meat) can help.

When calcium intake is too low it can impair bone development and increase the risk of stress fractures (spinach and/or dairy products) can help. The recommended calcium intake for kids 9-18 years of age is 1,300 milligrams per day.

Supplements and Kids

Kids are often drawn to supplements because of the hype, claims, promises and testimonials about improved performance. However, there is NO evidence that they will improve performance.

Creatine monohydrate is a popular supplement among young athletes. There isn't much research available on youth taking this supplement and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) does not recommend creatine for people younger than 18 years of age.

One supplement we DO recommend for kids is Juice Plus+® and JP+ Gummies®. They supply the whole-food nutrition from 15 fruits and vegetables, and 2 grains (which many children do not eat enough of) and increase the nutrient density of their diets.


Dehydration may not only impair performance, but can be dangerous. Youngsters do not regulate their body heat as well as adults because they don't sweat as much. As a result they acclimate to heat more slowly, and they have a greater increase in core temperature. Most kids do not drink enough fluids during exercise, should drink enough to match the weight lost in sweat, and should avoid or limit exercise in very hot and humid environments.

Don't let advertising, hype, and claims without scientific fact be your guide. Let science be your guide and excellence will follow!

(Original Research: Meyer, F., et al. "Nutrition for the young athlete." Journal of Sports Sciences 25:S73-82, 2007.)

SuperCharge for the Winning Edge
New SuperCharge Book Now Available!

The newly-released (Oct/2008) SuperCharge for the Winning Edge by Jack Medina, M.A. and Roy Vartabedian, Dr.P.H. is now available online for immediate delivery!

SuperCharge for the Winning Edge is a compilation of 29 articles of importance on nutrition and fitness. Perfect for athletes, coaches, those with an active lifestyle, and those beginning a new exercise program.

This new book provides critical information for those involved in exercise or weight/fat loss programs on how to start, be effective in getting results, and evaluate supplements. It also makes for a great gift to help others along their path to better health and fitness. Order your copy today!

More Info on SuperCharge--Click Here


To order more than one copy of SuperCharge, click on the link below and save with our volume discounts!

Volume Discounts on Supercharge--Click Here

See you next month for another edition!

Yours for fitness and health,

Jack A. Medina, M.A.

Roy E. Vartabedian, Dr.P.H.

Designs for Fitness & Wellness

phone: 541-474-2454 or Toll-Free Order Line: 1-866-204-8786

Author/speaker and an expert in Sports Performance Enhancement”. Jack Medina is available for speaking engagements, consultation and personal training of athletes in various sports, professional and amateur. Jack has written a new book, “The Winning Edge: Fueling & Training The Body For Peak Performance” with Dr. Roy Vartabedian, an internationally known New York Times Best Selling Author of the “Nutripoints” program for optimal nutrition. Both books are available online at Jack also has a monthly ezine (newsletter) available free which can be subscribed to on his website. All subscriber’s addresses will be confidential and not sold or given to any other organization or group.

This article contains copyrighted material. Copies of this article may be reprinted without permission of the author only when this bi-line is included with each copy. Jack can be reached at