Nutrition for Adolescent Athletes: Fuelling Growth and Performance
By Clare Keating, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist
As adolescents embark on their journey into the world of sports and physical activity, ensuring they have proper nutrition is crucial for their growth, development, and athletic performance.
This evidence-based blog post by Dietitian Clare will provide valuable insights into the nutritional needs of adolescent athletes, enabling them to optimise their potential both on and off the field.
The Role Of Nutrition In Adolescent Athletes' Development
During adolescence, significant physical and physiological changes occur, such as rapid growth, hormonal fluctuations, and increased muscle development. Proper nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting these changes and ensuring overall well-being.
Energy Needs and Macronutrients For Adolescent Athletes
Energy requirements: Adolescents involved in regular sports activities have higher energy needs due to increased physical exertion and growth. Calorie/energy intake should be sufficient to cover both basal metabolic rate and physical activity levels.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the primary source (and bodies preferred source) of energy for athletes. Whole grains (e.g pasta, rice, bread, noodles, potato), fruits, vegetables, and legumes provide complex carbohydrates that sustain energy levels throughout training and competitions. Simple carbohydrates (white bread, muesli bars, fruit juice, dried fruit, cereal, sports drinks, lollies) are ideal before training or games as they are a quick source of energy.
Protein: Adequate protein intake is essential for muscle growth and repair. Sources of lean protein such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant-based proteins should be included in their diets.
Fats: Healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, and fatty fish, are crucial for overall health and energy. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, support cognitive function and reduce inflammation.
Micronutrients For Adolescent Athletes
Adolescent athletes require an array of vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and performance. Some key considerations include:
Calcium and Vitamin D: These nutrients are vital for bone health. Dairy products, fortified foods, leafy greens, and safe sun exposure are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D.
Iron: Iron is necessary for oxygen transport in the blood. Adolescent athletes, especially females, are at a higher risk of iron deficiency. Include iron-rich foods like lean meats, beans, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens.
Vitamins and Antioxidants: Colourful fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and antioxidants that support the immune system, reduce inflammation, and aid in recovery.
Proper hydration is critical for athletic performance. Adolescent athletes should aim to drink water consistently throughout the day, not just during training sessions or games. Sports drinks may be appropriate for intense activities lasting longer than an hour, but water remains the primary choice for hydration.
Timing Of Meals And Snacks For Adolescents
Pre-Exercise: Consuming a balanced meal or snack rich in carbohydrates about 1-2 hours before exercise provides adequate fuel and helps prevent fatigue.
Post-Exercise: Rapid recovery is facilitated by consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 2 hours post-exercise.
Avoiding Disordered Eating Patterns For Adolescent Athletes
Adolescence is a vulnerable period for the development of disordered eating habits. Encouraging a healthy relationship with food by emphasizing balanced nutrition, avoiding extreme dieting, and fostering a positive body image is incredibly important.
Individualised Nutrition Plans For Adolescent Athletes
Adolescent athletes' nutritional needs can vary based on factors such as sport type, intensity, growth rate, and gender. It's advisable to consult an accredited practising dietitian to develop an individualised nutrition plan that meets their specific requirements.
Adequate nutrition is the cornerstone of an adolescent athlete's journey to optimal performance, growth, and overall well-being. By prioritizing a well-rounded diet rich in the right balance of macronutrients, micronutrients, and hydration, young athletes can set themselves up for a successful and fulfilling athletic experience. Remember, every meal is an opportunity to fuel potential both on and off the field.