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The Nutritional Needs Of Young Athletes & Nutritional Issues of Concern

A sports player’s performance depends upon its health maintained, which in turn, depends upon what he eats and at what time he eats. The poor quality diet will not only affect their competent abilities but will also pave the path for illness. While a healthy diet providing a certain amount of energy and proteins to the players will improve their health and playing powers in sports. [1]

The Nutritional Needs Of Young Athletes &  Nutritional Issues of Concern

The nutritional requirements of young athletes demand special considerations when compared to non-athletes. The most special need is “Energy,” which will support their physical activity level (PAL). Hence, sports players need carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals in a more significant proportion. Section-1 will discuss “The nutritional needs of young athletes” – guiding how to plan a sports nutrition chart. [1]

Once getting a complete understanding of the sports nutrition chart, we will forward our discussion in Section-2 upon “Nutritional Issues of Concern.” [2]

Section 1: The Nutritional Needs Of Young Athletes- Guidance On Preparing Sports Nutrition Chart

Growth and development are rapid in childhood and adolescence. It justifies the higher requirements of nutrition and energy in a young athlete’s body. The energy and nutrition requirements of different age groups of males and females are enumerated in the table below. [1]

Dietary Reference Values For Male/Female Athletes

*Non-milk extrinsic sugars [1]

Energy Needs

The requirement of energy by a young athlete’s body depends upon several factors: age, weight, muscles weight, physical activity level, etc. The primary energy-providing nutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Protein is essential for hormone and enzyme production, nutrient transfer in the blood, connective tissue support, and repair of tissue. Protein requirements are inherently higher for athletes compared to the general population. The body has a limit to protein synthesis; therefore, there is no benefit of consuming protein beyond the recommended quantity. The excessive consumption of protein may cause urea, dehydration, or calcium loss. The protein requirement can be completed with the diet, and hence, supplements are not necessary. [2]

Impact of Dietary Supplements On Sports Performance: Calcium & Zinc

The metabolic and physiological roles of the minerals in the body increase the need for studying their consumption effects on sports performances. Minerals are the primary dietary supplements in the sports nutrition chart due to their involvement in muscle contraction, normal heart rhythm, nerve impulse conduction, oxygen transport, oxidative phosphorylation, enzyme activation, immune functions, antioxidant activity, bone health, and acid-base balance of the blood. These processes change their rhythm during exercise, and hence, adequate consumption of minerals is necessary for optimal functioning. [4]

Calcium: Insufficient intake of calcium is generally found in young women who are engaged in weight-control sports, such as figure skating and distance running. Loss of calcium during exercise is the primary cause behind the deficiency. The inadequate consumption and increased loss of calcium may predispose the females to osteoporosis.

The National Institutes of Health consensus panel suggested the supplementation of calcium along with vitamin D for the female athletes. [4]

Zinc: It is composed of more than 300 enzymes, which are prominent for muscle energy production and protein synthesis. The endurance athletes who are consuming a carbohydrate-rich diet but low in fat and protein may decrease zinc intake. It can develop into zinc deficiency over time. The symptoms noted for the shortfall are weight loss, fatigue ness, and reduced endurance. It may also integrate into hypozincemia in athletes. Moreover, the zinc supplementation cannot give the endurance once lost to athletes. No scientific study has yet proved an improvement in physical performance due to zinc supplementation. Therefore, athletes need to maintain their zinc diet. [4]

Eating Before, During, And After A Sports Event

Athletes have to keep a check on their food and drink intake before, during, and after the sports. [1] The menu suggestions, including the eating time, affect the performance and recovery of the body. Meals that are low in fat, fiber, and caffeine, moderate in protein, and high in complex carbohydrates and fluid, should be consumed as pre-event meals. The best timing to eat is at least 3-4 hours before the start of the game. It would minimize gastric stress, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and sluggishness. [2]

The long endurance events demand the maintenance of blood sugar during the exercises. Consuming about 30-60 g/hr of carbohydrates in the form of soft drinks would solve the purpose. [2]

After the exercise, the players are advised to consume enough energy in the form of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. A moderate amount of protein can repair the muscles. [2]

Water Needs

Hydration is one such important aspect of sports nutrition chart which cannot be forbidden. The disturbance in the fluid and electrolyte balance may cause dehydration or deficiency of sodium in the body. During exercise, the body temperature of athletes is regulated by their sweating. Excessive sweating can result in fluid losses or mineral deficiencies or even a heart stroke. 10-12 cups of water daily can maintain the situation. Also, 12-20 oz of fluid before 2-3 hours of the exercise schedule can prove beneficial. During exercise, consuming 6-12 oz of fluid every 15-20 minutes is preferable. The fluids may be composed of sports drinks that are rich in carbohydrates and electrolytes. After exercise, intake of 16-24 oz of liquid will balance the losses. [2]

Section 2: Nutrition Issues Of Concern

Nutrition Knowledge Of Athletes

Despite the interest of athletes in the understanding of nutrition, a high proportion does not have a complete understanding of the impact of diet on their performances.

The half-knowledge of protein, vitamin, minerals, and fluid requirements can be attributed to their unauthentic sources of information. The lack of guidance has resulted in the misconceptions among athletes such as: do not eat after 5:00 pm, 800 kcal/day is adequate energy intake, prefer eating cold food only, avoid meat, bread, or potatoes, drinking of fluids during performance can be injurious, etc. [2]

Sources of Nutrition Information

The athletes realize the need for unique nutritional needs, and in turn, often seek guidance from magazines, health food store personnel, coaches, gym owners, and other sports players. One such study reported that 10% of athletes accept prescribed diets from unreliable sources. The healthcare professionals who are specialized in this matter are losing their business due to the unauthentic sources. [2]

Inappropriate Nutrition Recommendations By Coaches

The athletes, especially in sports such as wrestling and gymnastics, often rely on their coaches more than their parents or healthcare professionals for the dietary recommendations. A high school study on the knowledge of coaches revealed that almost half of them agreed on the statement, “weight loss gives a competitive advantage.” High school coaches were found to recommend inadequate macronutrient intake and fluid restriction. Many of them were prescribing multivitamins and protein supplements on their own. The study concluded that despite the lack of nutrition knowledge, coaches often provide dietary advice to athletes. [2]

Weight Control

The athletes often swing in the roller coaster of controlling their weights. Sports players from football focus on gaining weight while the gymnasts, skaters, or wrestlers want to lose weight. In either case, the practices for weight changes should be started well before the competition. The weight loss or gain can only be fruitful if achieved gradually. Weight gain can be accomplished through additional calorie intake and strength training, while weight loss can be achieved by decreasing calorie intake or increasing calorie expenditure. [2]

Iron Deficiency And Anemia Among Female College Athletes

An iron deficiency which may cause anemia can impair athletic performance. The long endurance of sports reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. The prevalence of iron deficiency or anemia reported is about 1% to 18% in female athletes, while the proportion in male athletes is 1% to 7%. [3]

The higher prevalence of iron deficiency or anemia in athletes can be related to the inadequate dietary intake of iron or increased iron losses or both. Athletes who are in sports with weight classes (such as wrestling or lightweight rowing), or those emphasizing leanness (such as gymnastics, dance, cross-country) are at increased risk for inadequate iron intake due to low-calorie consumption or disordered eating. [3]

The International Olympic Committee has made iron screening mandatory as a part of the periodic health evaluation for elite athletes. [3]


Adequate nutrition is essential to athletes not only for their athletic success but also for growth, development, and overall health. The primary cause found in the impaired performance of athletes is the deficiency of minerals. Out of this, treating the iron-deficiency should be at the priority. It will improve aerobic endurance performance. Also, optimal calcium nutrition, especially for female athletes, will prevent osteoporosis in them. However, the experiments have shown that neither athletes nor the coaches have sufficient knowledge in nutrition that can be fruitful in terms of performance or optimal health.


  1. Bean, A. (2013). Anita Bean’s Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes. A&C Black.
  2. Cotugna, N., Vickery, C. E., & McBee, S. (2005). Sports nutrition for young athletes. The Journal of School Nursing, 21(6), 323-328.
  3. Parks, R. B., Hetzel, S. J., & Brooks, M. A. (2017). Iron deficiency and anemia among collegiate athletes: a retrospective chart review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(8), 1711-1715.
  4. Williams, M. H. (2005). Dietary supplements and sports performance: minerals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2(1), 43.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 19, 2022

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