Article by Neal Spruce
Copyright (c) 2009 Neal Spruce
Nutrition Makes a Difference
Optimal athletic performance requires food and nutrient intake that is tailored to each athlete’s sport, training schedule and individual needs. Many athletes, especially younger ones, gravitate toward typical eating patterns which can significantly decrease their chances to reach their peak performance. The basics of performance nutrition are discussed here so your developing athlete can feel and perform their very best.
Energy is the Foundation for Success
The daily calorie intake for every youth athlete should provide sufficient energy needed for growth and development, optimal functioning and all activities. Just as a high performance car uses a special blend of gasoline to achieve peak performance, athletes also require the proper mixture of fuel (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) to perform optimally. Therefore, the “blend” of fuel and timing of meals and snacks are critical to maximizing performance potential. Daily calorie requirements will be different for each athlete but general recommendations are as follows:
- Active girls ages 9 to 13: approximately 2,070 calories per day- Active boys ages 9 to 13: approximately 2,279 calories per day- Active girls ages 14 to 18: approximately 2,368 calories per day- Active boys ages 14 to 18: approximately 3,152 calories per day- Very active kids and adolescents may need more, especially during growth spurts
Carbohydrates – The Main Energy Source
Carbohydrates, which rapidly break down to blood sugar (glucose), are the body’s primary and favorite energy source. The nervous system, brain, and the muscles are largely fed by glucose. To keep up a sustained level of energy, you need a regular supply of carbohydrates. Inadequate carbohydrate intake leads to low energy levels, fatigue and impaired performance. Proper management of the amounts, types and timing of this nutrient is required to fill and refill the main “gas tank”. Key carbohydrate guidelines are listed here:- Carbohydrates should make up approximately 60 percent of your child’s diet.- Starches and grains (breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc) should be eaten at each major meal throughout the day to provide a lasting energy source. Major meals should be eaten three to four hours apart.- Carbohydrates such as fruit, energy bars/shakes, and sports drinks are ideal for rapid fueling before activity and immediately after exercise to optimize recovery.- Depending on the sport, the growing athlete should consume 3 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day.
Protein – The Building Blocks Muscles and other body tissues are made up of proteins. Although protein contains the same amount of energy as carbohydrates, its primary function is the growth and repair of these tissues. Protein is a less efficient energy source for the body than carbohydrates, so little of the protein in your diet is used to meet this need unless you’re not getting enough carbohydrates or if you’re really pushing your body’s limits. As you see here, protein is metabolized for energy rather than to build new tissue. Eating adequate amounts of carbohydrates spares protein for building and repairing tissues and prevents the loss of lean tissue. General protein recommendations are listed below.- Protein should make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of total daily calories which most people, including children and adolescents, meet with a typical diet.- The daily protein requirement for sedentary youth ages 9 to 18 is approximately 0.35 grams per pound of body weight per day for proper growth and repair. However, active adults, children and adolescents require more protein – up to 1 gram per pound of body weight per day.- Lean meats, poultry without the skin, fish, eggs and soy products are excellent sources of protein. Other sources include beans, nuts and low-fat dairy products.
Fats – The Body’s Unlimited Energy Source
Dietary fats are essential to health because they help deliver vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for normal growth and functioning. However, most people get more than enough fat in their diet. Furthermore, fat is not the main energy source during exercise and the body’s stores cannot be depleted during exercise. This means daily fat intake is less important than carbohydrate and protein needs. In fact, what leads to fatigue – or what athletes refer to as “bonking” – is the depletion of carbohydrates. You’ll find the guidelines for fat intake below:- Fat should make up approximately 25% percent of the youth athlete’s diet.- The majority of fat intake will automatically come from protein foods such as meat, fish, milk and other dairy products.- Good sources of healthy fats include olive oil, canola oil and nuts.
Based on the sport, the goal of performance nutrition is to eat carbohydrates, protein and fats in ideal amounts and at proper times to allow the youth athlete to perform at a high level and maintain normal growth and development patterns. By keeping protein intake within the proper range to satisfy growth and repair, your young athlete can consume as much carbohydrate as necessary to keep filling the main “gas tank” and leave the remaining calories for dietary fats. For information, see Proper Hydration, Loading Your Energy Systems and Pre- and Post-Training Meals and Snacks.
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