We often hear about children and adolescents who are inactive ,overweight and prefer staying in-doors. On the other hand, there are children and teens who actively play and participate in endurance sports such as football, basketball, tennis cricket , swimming etc.
The nutritional requirements of active children and adolescents are different from adults and inactive kids.There is an increased need to understand their nutritional needs. Also, the nutritional needs change as they grow due to change in the body composition, and sexual maturation. Girls gain more fat as compared to boys as they gain twice as much muscle mass at puberty.
Any child who plays a sport should gain weight normally, if the weight stabilises or falls overtime, it means calories are not being adequately met and monitoring weight according to one’s height is important.
Why adequate nutrition is important?
- Injury prevention
- Strengthening the immune system
- Decreasing muscle tiredness
- Improving energy levels
- Enhanced muscle healing and recovery
Why nutritional requirements of young athletes are different?
- Growth and Development
- High cost of locomotion
- Greater fat oxidation
- Less efficient thermoregulation
Active young athletes need 500 to 1000 Kcal more than their non active peer-mates. The energy requirements are calculated according to their physical activity , weight , height and eating habits.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy and should represent 50%-55% of calories.
Protein should account for 15% to 20% of total calories and post match or activity and should be taken for proper recovery. Children and adolescents need more protein than adults for growth , muscle mass development and repair due to sports activities.
Fats account for 25% to 30% of total calories, including the good fats. For instance avocados, olive oil.
Adequate fluid intake should be taken to prevent dehydration, which include water and sports drink, which provides carbohydrates for muscle energy and electrolytes as well.
Foods that take care of the micronutrient requirements including iron, calcium , folic acid, vitamin B complex, and zinc should be included in the diet. Micronutrient deficiencies increase during adolescents and if not met then can affect your sports performance.
Care should be taken that they get adequate nutrition for growth, development and performance through their diet. It is important not to cut back on calories as it can have impact on their health such as menstrual problems, low bone density and stress injuries.
In a nutshell, as compared to adults,, the dietary requirements of young athletes are different and nutrition plays an important role in optimising growth, health and athletic performance. There is also an increased demand of micronutrients like calcium, iron requirements which are important for development and better performance.