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5 Nutritional Strategies Young Athletes Should Avoid

By TrueSport, 03/21/19, 9:30AM CDT


From after school sport practices, to full-day and weekend tournaments, young athletes need a lot of energy to power them through their days.

According to Sport Dietitian Mackenzie White, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, CSCS, young male and female athletes need adequate energy daily to fuel their bodies for their sport, reach growth potential, and prevent injuries.

Nutrition requirements for young athletes are determined by the type, intensity, and duration of the sport along with age, height, and weight. The type of food and timing of consumption is also necessary for young athletes, as well as their parents and coaches, to consider.

“Good nutrition is essential in the development of their bodies and brain function. It can potentially aid in the prevention of major health issues like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis, so how young athletes fuel their bodies is extremely important,” adds White.

Here are five nutritional strategies your young athlete should avoid to ensure they aren’t deprived of the fuel and nutrients they need to compete at their best. 

Detox Diets and Cleanses

Detox and cleansing diets have gained popularity with claims of cleaning your blood and eliminating harmful toxins from your body. However, there are no studies that suggest that these detox diets and cleanses aid in the elimination of any waste or toxins from the body.

The body naturally removes impurities from the blood, and with a functioning liver and kidneys, detox diets and cleanses are unnecessary. They usually do more harm than good, especially when it comes to a young, growing athlete.

If your athlete is concerned about cleansing their body of toxins, encourage them to drink water throughout the day to help with digestion and to promote normal bowel function. Young athletes can also opt for healthier food choices including fruits and vegetables for added nutrients.

Overly Processed “Health” Foods

Chemically processed foods are usually made from refined ingredients and artificial preservatives. These foods lack the proper nutrients a young athlete needs to stay active and can have adverse side effects on their health when consumed in excess.

Unprocessed, single-ingredient foods that contain no added chemicals are considered whole foods and are key to good health, as they provide the body with the nutrients it needs.

Oftentimes, it’s convenience that drives the consumption of overly processed foods, but making gradual changes to your grocery list can help shift your athlete’s view on healthy eating.

Try including your young athlete in the process by finding new recipes and preparing meals together to show them that making healthy choices is easier than they think. 

Pre- and Post-Workout Supplements

Pre-workout drink mixes that boost energy for increased athletic performance and post-workout protein shakes that promise to help with recovery and build more lean muscle are growing in popularity. However, they can come with significant risks for young athletes.

Pre-workout supplements contain high amounts of caffeine and sugar, which can be extremely harmful, especially in the smaller bodies of young athletes. Some side effects of caffeine include vomiting, jitters, cramps, high blood pressure, and even cardiac arrest.

As for post-workout recovery shakes, consuming more protein than necessary doesn’t help athletes in terms of recovery, muscle synthesis, or metabolism.

White prefers young athletes to eat a snack or meal post-training as opposed to a protein shake. “The food can provide protein as well as other nutrients necessary for recovery.”

It’s also unlikely that young athletes need to consume a protein shake immediately after a training session, as they should be able to get their daily allowance of protein from well-balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.

Restrictive Diets

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TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.

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