Nutrition and Supplement Use (Care of the Young Athlete)

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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. The following are tips on how to maintain appropriate fluid

  • Start each workout well hydrated.

  • Drink more fluids if urine is not pale
    or clear.

  • Drink fluids during workouts, especially
    if workouts are longer than 45 to 60 minutes. Frequent small sips of
    fluid are best. Most teen athletes should drink about 8 ounces of fluid
    every 20 minutes during an intense workout.

  • Switch from water to sports drinks after
    1 hour of activity. (Note: Children will drink more if they are given
    fluids that have taste, color, and a small amount of sodium [like sports

  • Coaches and parents should make sure
    fluids are always available and encourage appropriate fluid breaks.

  • Athletes may want to weigh themselves
    before and after workouts to see if they are getting enough fluids. Each
    pound of weight lost during a workout should be replaced with 16 ounces
    of fluid.


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.

Athletes should have a carbohydrate snack as
soon as possible (ideally within 20 minutes) after working out. This replenishes
energy in the muscles, which provides fuel for the next day’s training
session. This is especially important for athletes who are training almost every
day. Children don’t need extra carbohydrates if they are drinking sports
drinks (which already contain some carbohydrates).


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.

Athletes have greater protein needs than
nonathletes. However, they should be able to meet these needs with a balanced
diet. Vegetarians and athletes who are trying to lose weight may need to add
protein to their diets. For example, several tablespoons of nonfat dried milk
can be added to liquid milk, soup, pasta sauce, etc. It can be beneficial to
meet with a nutritionist for additional guidance.

Nutrition resources

American Academy of Pediatrics


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


US Department of Agriculture and other federal government agencies

www.nutrition.gov (includes information about
the new food group symbol, MyPlate, which replaced MyPyramid)

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.

  • Iron and calcium. Most
    children in the United States (both athletes and nonathletes) do not get
    enough iron and calcium in their diets. Teens should have 3 to 4
    servings of iron?rich food per day and 4 to 5 servings of
    calcium?rich food per day. Good sources of iron include lean
    beef, turkey, chicken, lentils, beans, tofu, spinach, molasses
    (blackstrap), or tomato puree. Good sources of calcium include milk,
    low?fat yogurt, cheddar cheese, calcium?fortified orange
    juice, or tofu prepared with calcium.

  • Vitamin D. Any child who is
    not consuming at least 32 ounces of vitamin D?fortified milk
    should receive vitamin D as part of a vitamin drop or pill to ensure
    adequate vitamin D intake. Vitamin D in milk or vitamin pills also is
    recommended for adults.

  • B vitamins. While adult
    athletes may need more of some B vitamins than nonathletes, it is not
    clear if this is true for children or teens.


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

  • 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.

Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement
by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the
content of the resources mentioned in this publication. Web site addresses are
as current as possible, but may change at any time.