Sports Nutrition and Hydration

Every athlete needs fuel to grow, learn and perform. Food provides this fuel. Nutrition and hydration needs change depending on the activity, intensity, time available for recovery and individual preferences.

Downloadable Resources:
Nutrition (English I Spanish)
Hydration (English I Spanish)
Supplements (English I Spanish)
Strong Bones (English I Spanish)
Vegetarian Nutrition Guide (English I Spanish)

Tips From Our Specialists for Young Athletes

Below is important information for your young athlete and how they can stay healthy. 
Baseball player, Jagger, throws a pitch
Here are our top tips for fueling active kids and athletes:

Three meals a day
One to two or more snacks a day (depending on the athlete, sport and training level)

Food groups: protein, fruit, vegetable, grains/starch, dairy, fat
At least three different food groups per meal
At least two different food groups per snack
EXCEPTION = during training or competition

Drink with and between meals and snacks
Choose water first, consider adding sports drinks with high intensity activity lasting more than an hour.

Food is here to fuel, improve performance and prevent/help heal from injury
Notice hunger, satiety and how different foods work with training and competition
Who is at risk of weak bones?
Adolescence is an important time to lay the foundation for building strong bones.

Those at an increased risk of weak bones and bone injuries include athletes who:
  • are not meeting their daily calorie and nutrient needs for bone development, due to:
    • higher calorie needs related to frequency and duration of training and competition.
    • food allergy, intolerance or dislike of dairy products.
    • picky eating habits that eliminate green vegetables, seeds and other calcium rich foods listed above.
  • are female and participate in endurance or high-intensity sports with irregular menstrual cycles.
  • play indoor sports with limited exposure to the sun.

Athletes who are experiencing bone stress injuries may need even more calcium and vitamin D. Speak with your doctor and registered sports dietitian if you have concerns.
Your body needs fuel to grow, learn and perform. Food provides this fuel. You need to change how much you eat depending on what you are doing. You also must be careful to eat enough of the right foods to fuel your body for growing and to perform in your sport.

What happens if you don’t get enough?
Time out of sports from illness and injuries like stress fractures.
Prolonged recovery from injuries.
Not growing to full height.
Not able to build adequate muscle strength.
Other medical problems that can last a long time.

How do you know if you are not getting enough?
Here are some signs that suggest you may need more fuel:
  • Feeling tired a lot
  • Feeling moody
  • Getting injured easily
  • Getting sick often
  • Not improving strength and skills despite effort
  • Decreased performance
  • Losing weight
How do you get enough?
Whether you are hungry or not, eating three meals a day with two to three snacks is a must for active, growing athletes. To be sure you are eating the right foods, mix food groups at each snack and meal and be sure to eat all food groups each day.
Pediatric sports medicine physician Jane S. Chung, M.D., warns families that energy drinks are not recommended in the pediatric population. Energy drinks thought to be an ergogenic aid which suggests they have performance enhancing effects. The concerns are two-fold. First, drinking the beverages may cause physical consequences. Second, those who drink them are more inclined to participate in other risk-taking behaviors. Read more to understand why it is important to educate young athletes about these popular drinks.  

Risks Associated with Consuming Energy Drinks
Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine, along with herbal blends (high doses of vitamins and amino acids) and we do not know how young pediatric bodies will respond to these products. There are concerns for safety regarding the contents and concentration of products in these drinks and they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who regulates products to ensure safety. Because the production is not regulated, there are risks of contamination and impurities. Energy drinks often contain high concentration of questionable contents and have been reported to cause adverse effects such as stomach (gastrointestinal) issues, nausea, shaking, overstimulation (affecting sleep, training, performance), anxiety, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and even cardiac arrhythmias, seizures and death.

Risk-Taking Behaviors Increased in Those who Consume Energy Drinks
Consumption of energy drinks has been associated with increased risk-taking behaviors. Therefore, children and adolescents who choose to drink energy drinks may be more likely to look for other supplements or participate in other activities that are known to be risky in this age group.

Sports Drinks
In most situations, water is the best choice for hydrating young athletes. Sports drinks are only recommended when participating in activities:
  • In very hot or humid environments.
  • With high intensity for longer than 60 minutes.
  • Sports camps, tournaments and double-headers.
When water isn’t enough, reach for a sports drink with a good mix of water, electrolytes and carbohydrates. For many young athletes, 30-60 grams of carbohydrates in an hour is all they need. You can find this information on any standard nutrition label. Otherwise, stick with water, start early and drink often.
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 certified sport dietitian:
  • 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.  
water and healthy snacks

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