Our children surprise us nearly every day. But one of the
biggest surprises can be when your son (or daughter) announces he's
on a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb diet and asks you to buy
spinach or another green leafy food he's rejected his entire life.
Asked why, he explains he wants to develop his "abs."
Welcome to the world of tween and teen sports nutrition, where
kids want to build muscle and strength-and coaches suddenly are the
most important adults in a young person's world.
"This is really a great opportunity to get them engaged in
talking about good nutrition and how they should be eating,"
explains Ellen Shanley, RD, dietetics director at the University of
Connecticut, co-author of Fueling the Teen Machine and the mother
Yet, "as a parent you need to be involved and ask questions if
you do not agree or have questions about something the coach is
Team participation and dietary habits
Unfortunately, not every student athlete is lean and fit. In a
recent review of the research published in Current Sports Medicine
Report, a journal of the American College of Sports Medicine,
there's no evidence showing that sports participation prevents
obesity in kids.
Those who play sports are more likely to consume fast food and
sugar-sweetened beverages and take in more total calories than
Yet these same students often consume more vegetables, fruits
and drink more milk than those not in sports.
It's likely no surprise to parents that many sports participants
consume empty calorie foods. Think of the candy, sugar-sweetened
drinks, chips and ice cream sold at games and meets.
And parents are often on the hook for bringing "treats" for
practices and games, regardless of the amount of actual calories
For building muscle, you must exercise those muscles, says
Shanley. "The best way to build muscles is when aerobic exercise is
combined with strength training. The energy to do this is provided
mostly from carbohydrates, not protein."
Eat enough calories. An average teen female needs 2,000 calories
each day and a male needs 2,300. But calorie needs can vary
depending on the athlete's age, gender, height, weight, type of
sport, playing time, intensity level and skill level.
Eat a good mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 55-60 percent
of the calories should come from carbohydrates, 20-35 percent or
less from fat, and 15-20 percent from protein.
Most athletes need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body
weight each day. For example, a 110-pound youth needs about 40
grams of protein.
Need help translating the recommendations? Consult a
credentialed sports dietitian by logging onto
In addition to parental involvement, there's much that can be
done by league officials and coaches of youth sport organizations
to promote healthy dietary habits among participants.
Coaches and league officials can reach out to registered
dietitians for educational seminars and to help develop simple,
accurate nutrition education materials for parents, coaches and
Nutrition guidelines can be developed by volunteer parent
coordinators as to the type of food and beverages appropriate for
organized snack schedules and concession stands.
As for your son frustrated with the lack of progress with his
"six-pack" and biceps? Advise patience.
His male hormones will increase during the maturation process,
and so will his ability to grow muscles.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.
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