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Guest post by Merle Guyton
As I reflect on the days I participated in sports, I don’t remember my coaches or parents ever discussing nutrition as a part of my training. The closest example of such a conversation was my mom telling me to eat my vegetables or my coach forbidding the players to drink alcohol.
Things are no different today. Most young athletes now understand the importance of regular and consistent physical training but do not understand or consider nutrition as an important factor in their athletic performance. Although there appears to be more emphasis from coaches and parents on sports nutrition to promote better nutritional habits among young people, a quick visit to any sporting event for youth will reveal the opposite: Concession stands rarely have healthy snacks or drinks.
Lack of the Good Stuff
According to the America Heart Association, the 2012 average consumption of fruit was much lower than the daily suggested amount. Not only that, but the amount of fruits consumed daily also decreased with age! Only about 8% in those 5 to 9 years of age, 7% to 8% in those 10 to 14 years of age, and 4% in those 15 to 19 years of age consumed the recommended two cups. The same was true with vegetables. Average consumption was low, ranging from 0.9 to 1.1 servings per day, with less than 2% of children in different age and sex subgroups meeting guidelines of greater than 2.5 cups per day.
Another factor to consider is the competitive level of youth sports and the early age of involvement. “Kids sports have become much more competitive… And in general, high-level competition for young kids is not a great thing,” says Dr. Jordon Metzl, co-author of “The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide for Parents.” This high level of competition can cause stress, injuries and certainly requires good nutritional habits.
What’s the Alternative?
I know it’s somewhat controversial to endorse supplements for young athletes but I would like to make my case in favor of supplementation. Outside of the comments I made earlier, one just needs to investigate the quality of food we eat today to discover “it ain’t what it use to be.” I’ll save the details for another article but consider this:
- consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is at an all-time high;
- fruits and vegetables now contain less nutritional value than in the past
(Journal of the American College of Nutrition – December 2004);
- processed foods are our primary food source but provide very little nutrition.
Studies show young athletes require more nutrition to sustain their active lifestyle. If the food they’re eating has less nutrition, it stands to reason they need to supplement. I understand supplementation has gotten some bad press lately, mostly because of synthetic and dangerous ingredients included in some supplements. However, what I’m referring to is supplementing an athlete’s typical diet with real nutrition through natural and wholesome ingredients.
Back to the Basics
The USDA recommends that half of our daily food intake consist of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the CDC has recently changed their position on the number of daily required servings from 5 to 9. Fruits and vegetables provide a good source of vitamins and minerals and are also rich in micro-nutrients. Some fruits and berries are an easy source of good carbohydrates found in high amounts in many citrus fruits. Vegetables provide fiber, proteins, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. Vitamin C is a key nutrient required by the body to produce collagen, a connective tissue that holds muscles, bones and other tissues together. Fruits and vegetables are also a rich source of antioxidants. Antioxidants minimize the rate of damage to the body from free radicals.
Nine servings of fruits and vegetable a day! How many young athletes really do this? How many parents and coaches are encouraging this? The sad truth is our busy lifestyles and need for convenience; create an environment where fast food and high fructose corn syrup filled snacks rule the day.
University of Minnesota researchers interviewed the parents of 60 young athletes and found that their children commonly had sweets, such as candy, ice cream and doughnuts, salty snacks such as chips, nachos and cheese puffs; pizza, hot dogs, soda and sports drinks. The same study revealed those parents had difficulty discerning the health value of the food their young athletes consumed. All this leads one to believe that supplementation certainly could not hurt.
What Makes A Good Supplement
Finding athlete supplements that provide natural whole food nutrition is not easy. The discount retailers have shelves full of synthetic and fractionated supplements that are less beneficial than wholefood. I recommend you research the difference in synthetics and wholefood supplements to make an educated decision.
The first step to identifying a good supplement is look at the ingredients. You should see a list of whole vitamins and foods like vitamin C (not ascorbic acid), broccoli, carrots, beet and other fruits and vegetables. Whole food supplements will also carry an expiration date less than two years. If it contains enzymes the date should not exceed one year. Speaking of enzymes, a good multi-vitamin supplement should have a digestive enzymes blend.
There is no substitute for doing your own research. Sorting through the sea of information and hype is a daunting task. I think our children are worth the effort. Help them be successful on and off the field with better nutrition and wise supplementation.