Nutrition for the Youth Athlete

“The foods and drinks that players choose to consume can affect how they perform in sport and help them to stay fit and healthy. All players should choose foods wisely to help achieve their goals in sport." F-MARC Nutrition for Football

The British Journal of Sports Medicine says, "Food is composed of six basic substance: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Each one of these has specific function in providing nourishment for the body. For the sportsman, it is of critical importance to recognise what each does to his body under the physical, mental and emotional strains of competition." (Emphasis is ours) Source

The internet and book stores are filled with books and articles suggesting everything from Vegan, Mediterranean, low protein, to the Paleo diet. Most "experts" agree on several things:

  1. Food and proper hydration are critical to athletic performance.

  2. Eating nutrient dense foods, preferably organic, provides you with the best sources of macro and micro nutrients. That means as little processed food as possible! Buying foods from local farmers who use organic farming practices (eventhough they may not say organic - it is expensive to have that label). Eating from a small box is likely to put you in a bigger box sooner than later (think about it!). Look at EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15.

  3. Vegetables (and we don't mean ketchup and french fries) can be good! Wash them thoroughly. Important: Read this article about oxalates.

  4. Cauliflower

  5. Cabbage

  6. Avocado

  7. Broccoli

  8. Zucchini

  9. Spinach

  10. Asparagus

  11. Kale

  12. Green beans

  13. Brussels sprouts

  1. Fruits. Eat no more than one or two per day.. Here are our suggestions for the best fruits to eat:

  2. Raspberries: Half a cup (60 grams) contains 3 grams of carbs.

  3. Blackberries: Half a cup (70 grams) contains 4 grams of carbs.

  4. Strawberries: Eight medium-sized (100 grams) contain 6 grams of carbs.

  5. Plum: One medium-sized (65 grams) contains 7 grams of carbs.

  6. Kiwi: One medium-sized (70 grams), contains 8 grams of carbs.

  7. Cherries: Half a cup (75 grams) contains 8 grams of carbs.

  8. Blueberries: Half a cup (75 grams) contains 9 grams of carbs.

  9. Clementine: One medium-sized (75 grams) contains 9 grams of carbs.

  10. Cantaloupe: One cup (160 grams) contains 11 grams of carbs.

  11. Peach: One medium-sized (150 grams) contains 13 grams of carbs.

  12. Granny Smith Apple: One small (109 grams) contains 15 grams of carbs.

  1. Look carefully at additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. None provide any health benefits and some can be quite problematic.

  2. It is up to the athlete to experiment and have a full understanding of which foods and liquids work (i.e. help performance) and which do not.

  3. Trying a new food or drink or supplement on game day is always a bad idea!

  4. Avoid GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) foods. See this list!

Carbohydrates: Most athletes will not be able to get enough "carbs" from fruit and veggies alone. Try sweet potatoes, squash, brown rice, quinoa and other non-wheat based grains and beans. Please learn how to soak your grains and beans if you choose to eat them. Eat only what you really need to continue to train. In other words, eat as much as you need to feel energized and no more. Like we said, you must experiment. You may even want to use a blood glucose meter to check how your body responds. Learn more here.

Protein: This is a loaded topic! Once again, you need enough to recover and rebuild the muscle you have torn down. Excess is not better. There are many formulas used to determine protein needs, but we will go simple .... one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass (not total weight) as a maximum. Plant based protein can work, but our take is that grass fed (organic) meats (sustainably raised) are good as well. Here's some recent evidence.

Fats: No trans fats! And saturated fat is not necessarily bad!

Best cooking oils:

  1. No soybean and canola oil.

  2. Low heat: Sunflower, grassfed butter, Pumpkin

  3. Medium heat: Olive, Hazelnut, Sesame, Macadamia

  4. High heat: Coconut, Palm, Ghee, Avocado; medium hea

Good fats: grassfed meats, organic butter, raw nuts, pastured eggs (eat the yolk!)

Dairy: you must experiment. Remove dairy for at least a week or two and see how you feel. Then add back what you miss eating. Grass fed butter, raw and fermented cheese, raw milk (unpasteurized), organic, full fat goat's yogurt, organic Greek yogurt, and kefir are great choices. Introduce one at a time for several days each and see how you feel. Regular grocery bought milks and cheeses (any type) are very poor choices.

4. Micronutrients: Even if you eat all organic, the soils in which these foods are grown are most probably nutrient deficient or insufficient. Many vegans and vegetarians may be micronutrient deficient in B12, Iron, Omega 3s, Iodine, Vitamin D, Calcium, Zinc - click here to learn how to prevent these deficiencies if you are vegan or vegetarian.

5. Salt: The conventional wisdom that salt is bad has been challenged and by recent studies. Read the Great Salt Debate. The current research supports an intake between 3000 and 7000 milligrams of sodium (1.5 to 3.5 teaspoons of salt) per day. Regular table salt is heavily processed, full of additives and devoid of minerals. Look for sea salt and check the label.

6. Supplements: Most medical authorities, position papers, and sports governing bodies warn against supplement use for youth athletes. A clean diet is certainly the foundation. However, research points to nutrient deficiencies in our kids, like vitamin D - "the most recent data set available (2009-2010), more than 90% of U.S. children and teens have a vitamin D level below the recommended range of 40-60 ng/ml". And this paper states,"the results of our study indicates that potential inadequacies of key nutrients in healthy toddlers are prevalent across four populous nations independent of their current level of socioeconomic development." The use of supplements when there is a need may be considered prudent.

7. Food Sensitivities: See this page for sources of gluten, corn, soy, and dairy in foods.

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