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Sports Nutrition for Children and Teenagers: Focus on Energy and Protein Needs
According to most people, sports foods are a no-go for children. Probably this attitude is based on the general impression of parents and non-athletes that they have of dietary supplements. These products are mostly perceived as unnatural, chemical and possibly doping substances or other - legal or illegal - pharmacologically active substances. And thus, at best, they are considered useless, but potentially even harmful to children. Sports nutrition is primarily about concentrated food and isolated nutrients as well as convenience and tolerance. It is a concept of (partial, supplementary) nutritional intake in a practical, convenient and well-tolerated form as part of a full daily routine with everyday constraints, in order to be able to carry out one's sporting activities as optimally as possible. In the first place, sports nutrition is not yet about performance-enhancing supplements or even pharmacologically active substances.
Growing children have increased energy and protein requirements
Considering the generally increased energy and protein requirements of growing children, it is obvious that children who engage in sports have an even higher (relative) requirement than adults. In addition, children are also more likely to be affected by nutritional deficiencies for obvious and known reasons: unhealthy food preferences, distraction and disinterest in a suitable diet in general and/or depending on the time of activity, and last but not least, rebellion against parental guidelines. For these reasons it is certainly appropriate to consider a possible supplementation of the diet with sports foods, but primarily in the area of energy and protein supply, not specific performance promotion. In addition, depending on the individual nutritional situation and specific needs (after clarification), micronutrients (e.g. vitamin D or calcium) may make sense.
In principle, basic nutritional recommendations for adult athletes can therefore apply equally to children and adolescents. This means, for example, the use of carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drinks during sporting activity for more than an hour, the intake of carbohydrate-protein shakes shortly after performance, or energy bars and other easily digestible, carbohydrate-containing snacks during the day, especially before energetically demanding workloads. Children are usually less consistently active in their sports, more easily distracted and therefore less focused on general nutritional requirements.
Watch out: dental health!
In the case of children and nutrition, however, one should certainly not ignore the topic of dental health. Sugars and acids are known to be bad for the teeth, but are also usually contained in carbohydrate-containing drinks and snacks. The most harmful is constant sipping and all too frequent sipping of carbohydrate- and acidic drinks, especially those containing fruit juice. Countermeasures can be the use of acid-free sports drinks or rinsing the mouth with water and the use of sugar-free chewing gum.
However, the unconditional use of other specific performance-enhancing supplements such as caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine or special nutritional strategies such as soda-loading must clearly be considered inappropriate for children, even though there may be no health risk at the usual recommended dosages. In principle, such supplements and measures are to be regarded as "top-of-the-pyramid", i.e. not suitable for adolescents and even less for children. As long as the technical abilities and physical performance factors are still in development and far from being exhausted, progress in performance will be achieved much more efficiently by promoting them. An uncritical use of supplements, or their potential effect, would be irrelevant.
General sports nutrition recommendations for children and adolescents
Thirst should always be the driver for drinking. However, you should keep an eye on children and help them to think about drinking. Because they tend to forget drinking in their sporting zeal or simply because of distraction and generally less self-control than adults. The best recommendation is acid-free sports drinks, wherever energy is needed. Otherwise, water or sugar-free effervescent powder/tablets are sufficient, depending on taste acceptance. Pure maltodextrin can also be added to self-brewed tea water as an energy supplement, preferably with a pinch of salt per liter. Our recommendations are: COMPETITION, ELECTROLYTES, MALTODEXTRIN 100.
In addition to sports drinks, many bars also serve as an easily digestible source of energy. They can be easily and conveniently taken anywhere, and consumed before, during and even after performance. Carbohydrate gels can also be used in this way to a certain extent. These should be reserved for intensive competition situations or acute energy shortages. SPONSER® offers various suitable bars: HIGH ENERGY BAR, CEREAL ENERGY PLUS and the sustainably satiating oat bar OAT PACK.
Healthy growth and bone health are central for children and adolescents and require sufficient protein in the diet. Rapid recovery after exercise also depends on protein and energy supply in order to optimally support protein synthesis. As a consequence, special attention should also be paid to the daily protein supply of children. One can follow the rule of thumb of 1.5-2.0 g protein per kg body weight daily. Preferably, one portion should contain 20-30 g of protein and be taken together with approx. 30-50 g of carbohydrates within one hour after demanding sporting activity. A rough guideline is to take 20-30 g protein every 3-5 hours. The content from normal meals can be comfortably supplemented either with pure protein drinks from SPONSER® such as WHEY ISOLATE 94 or combined with carbohydrates such as RECOVERY DRINK, RECOVERY SHAKE, PRO RECOVERY. Ready-to-drink products such as PROTEIN SMOOTHIES or bars like PROTEIN 34/36 are also suitable.
Targeted carboloading can be considered before competition situations with a pronounced long-term endurance character, or as a temporary measure in case of acute energy bottlenecks or increased energy requirements (training camps). This can also make sense in phases of growth spurts and with delayed weight development. The use of the CARBOLOADER 2-4 times a day during a defined period can help to cover an increased energy demand more easily than with a normal diet alone.
Hands off caffeine or creatine
Although recent findings have not in themselves raised safety concerns about caffeine in children per se, it seems inappropriate to use caffeine in children for the reasons outlined above. It is also clearly not recommended to use creatine in growing children. The increased strength could lead to muscular imbalances or even injuries if trained intensively, due to non-linear/parallel development of strength, muscles and supporting structures (bones, ligaments, cartilage).
As a final remark, it should be remembered that any nutritional measure is only as good as the actual implementation! It is more important to find and use measures and products that the person concerned is willing to use voluntarily and willingly than to stubbornly stick to fixed nutrient calculations and recommendations. If something is done only reluctantly, the implementation will fail sooner or later. It is important to find foods and sports nutrition that the person concerned likes and enjoys taking, so that they become part of the daily routine and are followed voluntarily. This also includes the selection of alternatives as a change of taste.
Author: Remo Jutzeler
Head R&D SPONSER SPORT FOOD
Ing. Applied Food Sciences UAS
MAS Nutrition & Health ETHZ