Young ballerina at the barre.

Sep 08, 2017 / Sports Medicine

How do you keep your child safe while trying to gain or lose weight for a sport?

By Jane Chung, M.D.

Young athletes face pressure daily regarding body image whether it be from social media or other external social stressors. There are also certain sports in particular that place emphasis on a certain body type. Some emphasize a lean physique such as gymnastics, figure skating or ballet. Where others emphasize a more muscular physique such as football, powerlifting and basketball.

Many athletes in an attempt to “lose or gain” weight to fit the prototype of their particular sport participate in unsafe and unhealthy weight gain/loss practices such as fad diets or supplements which are not FDA approved. They are not aware of the possible adverse effects and consequences it may have on their health and even performance. Sudden weight gain or sudden weight loss is not recommended for the young athlete and most importantly, a well-balanced diet is key for these growing athletes.

Athletes should be counseled by physicians and dietitians to come up with an individualized plan to safely help an athlete attain a weight goal appropriate for them using healthy weight control practices.

Here are some tips for young athletes from our sports medicine dietitian, Taylor Fisher, M.S., R.D., L.D.:
  • Set appropriate goals. For some, losing one to two pounds per week might be a reasonable goal. More than this would be a concern for a young and growing athlete.
  • Focus on how and not how much. Choose healthy foods and not junk foods with “empty calories.”
  • Get enough sleep. This is often forgotten for meeting goals to gain or lose weight.
  • Watch for realistic progress. Young pre-pubertal athletes will not gain muscle mass like an adult.
  • Communicate with coaches to align goals. Optimal performance is the goal. Focusing on a number on a scale can be misleading.
It's important how medical providers, coaches and parents speak to young athletes about nutrition and weight. Sports medicine physicians and registered dietitians are trained in how to counsel children and parents on this topic.  If at all hesitant, it could be useful to talk with an expert about how to work with your young athlete on healthy weight loss or weight gain before discussing with your child.  

Read a recent publication in the journal of Pediatrics. 

For information about injury prevention and pediatric sports medicine, please visit our website at

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