Educational Information

Young Athletes and Nutritionsports medicine

All young people need to eat balanced meals and have a healthy diet. In general, those who eat healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks on a regular basis will get the nutrients needed to perform well in sports. However, depending on the sport, some young athletes may have higher energy and fluid requirements.

Getting Essential Nutrients

Besides getting the right amount of calories, it takes an assortment of nutrients to keep young athletes performing at their best:

  • Young athletes need a variety of vitamins and minerals. Calcium and iron are two important minerals for athletes:
    • Calcium helps build strong bones to resist breaking and stress fractures. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as leafy green vegetables such as broccoli.
    • Iron helps carry oxygen to all the different body parts that need it. Iron-rich foods include lean meat, chicken, tuna, salmon, eggs, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified whole grains.
    • Protein helps build and repair muscles, and most kids get plenty of it through a balanced diet. Protein-rich foods include fish, lean meat and poultry, dairy products, beans, nuts, and soy products. Too much protein can lead to dehydration and calcium loss.
    • Carbohydrates provide energy for the body. For a young athlete they're an important source of fuel. There's no need for "carb loading" but without carbs in their diet, a young athlete will be running on empty. When choosing carbs, look for whole-grain foods like whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread and cereal, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Today, many young people think that taking supplements such as protein powders, creatine, amino acids, mega-dose vitamins/minerals, weight loss aids, energy boosters, and more will help improve their performance. For young people in particular, the risks of using supplements far outweigh the perceived benefits. Young athletes can get closer to their athletic and healthy living goals by properly fueling their bodies with a well-balanced diet. If you believe your young athlete would benefit from a multi-vitamin or a supplement, seek out the advice of a physician, registered dietician, or athletic trainer.

Staying Hydrated

It's important for young athletes to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can zap strength, energy, and coordination and lead to heat-related illness. Even mild dehydration can affect athletic performance. Thirst is not a reliable sign of hydration status, so experts recommend that active young people drink water or other fluids before and every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity. It's important to drink afterward to restore fluid lost through sweat.

Although many sports drinks are available, plain water is usually enough to keep an athlete hydrated. Sports drinks are designed to provide energy and replace electrolytes—such as sodium and potassium—that athletes lose in sweat. They can be a good choice for those who participate in strenuous physical activity for more than one hour, because after exercising for 60 to 90 minutes, the body has used up its readily available sources of energy. Sports drinks are also a good alternative for those who participate in sports but won't drink enough water.

The bottom line is that for most young athletes, water is the best choice for hydration. After the activity, carbohydrates and electrolytes can be replenished. If you are concerned about any of your young athlete’s dietary needs, consult with a healthcare professional.


Concussions Facts

Concussions are prevalent among many young athletes, across almost all sports and activities.

  • Concussions in young athletes, especially repeat concussions, can cause permanent damage to the brain and can even be fatal.
  • Playing or practicing with a concussion is dangerous and can lead to a longer recovery and a delay in returning to play. 
  • Repeat concussions are more likely to occur, if a person has not fully recovered from a previous concussion. 
  • If a concussion may have occurred, a person should not return to play on the day of the injury and until a healthcare professional says it’s OK to return to play.

Signs and Symptoms

A concussion is a brain injury that can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body. It can happen even if a person hasn’t been knocked out. Symptoms differ with each person and with each injury and may not be noticeable for hours or days. Common symptoms include:

      • Headache
      • Confusion
      • Difficulty remembering or paying attention
      • Balance problems or dizziness
      • Feeling sluggish or groggy
      • Feeling irritable or more emotional
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Sensitivity to light or noise
      • Double or blurry vision
      • Slower reaction times
      • Sleep problems
      • Loss of consciousness

During recovery, exercising or activities that require a lot of concentration, such as studying, working on the computer or playing video games, may cause concussion symptoms to reappear or get worse.

Think a Young Person May Have a Concussion?

Report It

Ignoring the symptoms and encouraging a young athlete to “tough it out” often makes symptoms worse. Tell a coach, parent or athletic trainer if you suspect someone may have a concussion. Do not pressure them into continuing to practice or play with a possible concussion. It’s better for them to miss one game than the whole season.

Get It Checked Out

Only a healthcare professional can tell if someone has had a concussion and when it’s OK to return to play. Sports have injury timeouts and player substitutions so that athletes can get checked out and the team can perform at its best. The sooner it’s checked out, the sooner the young person may be able to safely return to play.

Be Patient

A concussion can affect the ability to do schoolwork and other activities. Most athletes with a concussion get better and return to sports, but it is important to give the brain time to heal. A repeat concussion that occurs while the brain is still healing can cause long-term problems.