Young Male Athlete

Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements For The Young Athlete

Most young athletes can get all the nutrition they need from food.  A diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, and legumes are all rich in vitamins and minerals to support physical activity, even for competitive young athletes.

Taking vitamin or mineral supplements does not give an athlete a competitive advantage nor does exercise significantly increase vitamin or mineral needs.  Unfortunately, many young athletes have limited diets due to food preferences, food allergies or intolerances, medical conditions, or busy schedules.

What vitamins and minerals are key for young athletes?

In children and adolescents, calcium is needed for the development of healthy bones and teeth.  Bones grow rapidly during adolescence, and children and teens need enough calcium to build strong bones and delay bone loss later in life.  Food sources of calcium include dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, dried beans and peas such as lentils, navy beans, and split peas.

Dairy products contain the highest amount of calcium - a cup of milk, yogurt, and 1 oz of cheese contains approximately 300 mg of calcium.  Most children and adolescents need 3-4 servings per day of a calcium rich food, yetmany don't get the recommended daily amount of calcium.For those who are lactose intolerant, choosing lactose-reduced milk or a fortified soymilk is recommended.

Vitamin D–

This nutrient has received considerable attention recently because it plays a more significant role in human health than what was previously believed.  Vitamin D is needed to promote growth and mineralization of bones by increasing absorption of calcium.

Dietary sources of Vitamin D include fortified milk, cod liver oil, fatty fish, and lesser amounts are in eggs, liver, butter and margarine.  Also, sensible sun exposure can provide an adequate amount of vitamin D, which is then stored in body fat and released during the winter months when vitamin D cannot be produced.Exposure of arms and legs for 5 to 30 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (prior to application of sunscreen) twice a week is often adequate.  Fortunately, many young athletes participate in outdoor sports where sun exposure is abundant

Iron is needed to form oxygen–transporting compounds in the blood.  Iron is available in many foods including meats, eggs, vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals.  Milk and other dairy products are poor sources of iron. Eating meat is the easiest way to obtain iron and zinc, so vegetarians may be at increased risk.  Careful planning is needed to consume well-prepared dark green vegetables and enriched grains to obtain the recommended amount.

Special situations requiring supplementation -

Taking a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement is unlikely to be harmful and many children and teens with adequate diets take vitamins “just in case”.However many young athletes need supplementation.  Those at risk of nutritional deficiencies include children and teens with multiple food allergies or intolerances that limit entire food groups; those following a Vegan diet that eliminates all animal products; or those with chronic medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

In addition, many lactose intolerant children or teens whose diets do not include fortified dairy alternatives may need a calcium/vitamin D supplement.  Lactose intolerance is more common among African-Americans and Hispanics.

Additionally, individuals with darker skin have the reduced ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight; and those living in Northern climates may have limited sunlight.  Therefore a calcium and vitamin D supplement may be indicated in these situations.

Sports foods and supplements–

A plethora of food and beverages targeting athletes are on the market.  Many of these products serve a valuable purpose – for instance, carbohydrate replacement beverages provide quick energy and fluids for athletes at all levels.  Nutrition bars such as Cliff bars provide the right balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat in a portable and convenient package, which is ideal for the busy athlete.  However not all bars are created equal.  Many bars limit carbohydrate (to lessen calories) or contain high amounts of protein and fiber which may not be necessary, so it is always best to check the label.  These food products have their place as a supplement to an overall healthy diet, but the majority of nutrition for young athletes should focus on a wide variety of wholesome foods.

Leslie Cox, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC03 November 2015

Leslie Cox, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC Leslie started her career at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta then joined the Navy as an officer in the Medical Service Corps. She served as a Dietitian at Read more

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