With sports gearing up again, and the heavy demands placed on children in sports, how do you ensure your child is getting enough nutrients? There are limited tests available and generally, taking blood from children is not a desirable event for "interest-only" sake.
Basically, if your child is continuing to grow during their athletic careers and seems to have energy through the day, there is less need for concern. Children that show signs of nutrition deficiency, such as iron anemia, a plateau or decline in weight should see their doctor for an assessment.
Protein helps the body to rebuild and restore muscle after exercise and usually is recommended to be 10-15% of a child's caloric intake for the day. Too much protein is difficult for the body to break down and should be avoided. Carbohydrates provide the body with fast energy and should comprise about 50% of calories. "Carb-loading" is not generally needed in children, though carbs are a great pre-game/practice meal or snack. They tend to be easier on digestion than fats, which make up the rest of calories but can upset the stomach. For this reason, make sure all meals and snacks contain a small amount, balanced with carbs and protein. Encourage your child to eat a rainbow - get a variety of colours in their fruits and vegetables to cover many of the bases when it comes to vitamins and minerals. Female athletes may need to really watch their iron intake when they start menstruating, though some high level athletes may lose their period altogether so be sure to speak to your doctor for any concerns.
Water is typically sufficient hydration for the body. Electrolyte drinks may sometimes be recommended to older athletes in strenuous activities for over an hour, especially if the child is resistant or forgetful in drinking enough water. Energy drinks are not recommended to children due to the caffeine content. Watered down juices or caffeine-free teas (hot or cold) can sometimes be used to encourage hydration, but should not be relied upon solely.
Areas of Concern
It becomes really important with children to use careful observation and language in discussing food. Negative self-image or a perceived body type for a sport can lead to disordered eating, so we are very careful not to take away too much. Instead we can talk about increasing the "good" foods instead of adding to restriction and as adult role models, should be modelling a healthy relationship with food, our bodies, and fuelling it appropriately to meet the demands we place upon it. Childhood years can be a great time to teach them to listen to their bodies and best take care of it, setting healthy patterns for their entire adult life, with or without sport.
- Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):1182-1189.
- Health Canada
- Rowland T. Fluid replacement requirements for child athletes. Sports Med. 2011;41(4):279-288.
Please book in with Dr. Gayle Maguire ND if you'd like to discuss your child's specific needs.
*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.