Being active in competitive sports helps both children and teens develop lifelong healthy habits, teaching them the importance of diligence and hard work, facilitating the development of teamwork skills, and improving self-discipline. However, for the young athlete, staying healthy does require a bit of extra work because of the stress physical activity places on the body. To help your young athlete stay in prime physical condition, check out these seven keys to true health.

  1. Provide sufficient energy to support exercise needs, physical growth, and development. It is important to remember that young athletes are highly active and, therefore, often require more calories than their inactive peers. Depending on your young athlete’s level of physical activity, he or she may need an additional 500 to 1,500 calories per day in order to support his or her exercise needs and still ensure he or she is getting enough energy to support physical growth and development.
  2. Focus on providing healthy snacks. Because young athletes will likely have higher energy needs, they are going to need to eat more. Make sure that your young athlete has three nutritionally balanced meals every day, as well as three or four healthy snacks before and after training. Good snack choices include cheese and crackers, a banana, veggies and dip, and trail mix.
  3. Sufficient fluid intake is crucial. Just like young athletes need sufficient food energy to support their training as well as their physical growth and development, they also need sufficient fluid intake. It’s important to keep in mind that active children are at a greater risk of exercise-induced dehydration than adults are. This is partly because they sweat less than adults and, therefore, are more prone to overheating. But because children often have a less developed sense of thirst than adults, they often need to be prodded to drink. Make sure that your young athlete understands the importance of adequate fluid intake, and encourage him or her to sip water throughout the day and skip the sugary drinks.
  4. Make sure your young athlete is getting enough carbs. Carbs are critical for all athletes, especially young athletes. If your athlete isn’t eating enough carbs, he or she won’t have enough glycogen stores. Without glycogen during physical activity, the body has to use muscle for its energy, which isn’t ideal and could do damage over the long term.
  5. Be aware of common nutritional deficiencies. The most common nutritional deficiencies in young athletes include calcium, vitamin B6, folate, and iron deficiencies. It’s important to understand the signs of these deficiencies and to monitor for them.
      • Calcium: Adequate calcium intake ensures proper bone growth and sufficient bone mass. If your young athlete isn’t getting enough calcium, it can put him or her at risk for fractures and other bone-related injuries.
      • Vitamin B6 and folate: Both vitamin B6 and folate are important pieces of energy metabolism and blood health, as well as amino acid metabolism. Deficiencies can cause fatigue, muscle soreness, and even a loss of cognitive function in a young athlete.
      • Iron: Iron is important for young athletes’ oxygen carrying capacity, and it allows the body to effectively metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. A young athlete who is iron deficient will likely suffer from fatigue and could have a compromised immune system and impaired cognitive function.

    If you are concerned that your young athlete may have some kind of nutritional deficiency, you might want to consider adding a supplement specifically designed for young athletes and their nutritional needs.

  6. Ensure your student athlete is sleeping well. In order to ensure peak performance, wellness, and healthy growth and development, your young athlete needs to get the right amount of sleep. Teenagers, especially active teenagers, may need up to 10 hours per night.
  7. Focus on psychological health, as well as physical health. Remember, health isn’t just physical. It’s also psychological. Therefore, it’s important to create a healthy psychological environment for your young athlete. Help them develop healthy attitudes about achievement and teach him or her how to cope with setbacks when they occur. A psychologically healthy athlete should be able to effectively cope with stress, deal with setbacks, and overcome challenges without losing his or her cool.

The bottom line is that your young athlete needs to stay healthy in order to ensure proper growth and development and maximize athletic performance. That means eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, watching for nutritional deficiencies, and focusing on psychological as well as physical health.