All youth athletes should see a dietitian
All youth athletes should see a Registered Dietitian that specializes in both pediatric nutrition and sports nutrition, and I am going to tell you why. The nutrition needs of youth athletes are different from the general population. Dietitians understand these unique needs and are able to help young athletes fuel their bodies to give them a competitive edge.
As a pediatric dietitian who specializes in youth athletes, I want to tell you some ways I can help your athlete.
I provide athletes nutrition education and counseling on topics including
- Meal and snack timing
- Meal planning to meet their estimated nutrition needs
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Fueling for tournaments
- Food allergies, food intolerances and food allergic disorders
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- Sports related eating disorders
- Injury prevention and recovery
- Hydration and dehydration
Keep reading to learn more about the unique needs of youth athletes, and why dietitians should be an essential training tool.
The unique nutritional needs of youth athletes
When I refer to youth athletes, I am talking about athletes ages 7-18. Many of these athletes are still growing. Proper nutrition during this time is important as underfueling can have a significant impact on a player’s athletic performance as well as growth. Many youth athletes are underfueling without even knowing it. It is very common for a youth athlete to undereat and/or not fuel their bodies at the right time or with the right foods. Nutrition recommendations will differ for each individual player, and recommendations are sport dependent. A pediatric sports dietitian can help parents, coaches and players calculate a player’s estimated nutrition needs and help them with their diet to meet these needs and fill in any nutrition gaps.
Nutrition deficiencies can be a result of not eating enough, picky eating, food allergies, food intolerances, and gastrointestinal disorders. As a pediatric sports dietitian, I am able to evaluate someone’s diet and recognize gaps in their diet as well as identify nutritional deficiencies. I can recommend labs to get checked, and recommend dietary supplements as needed. Some of the common deficiencies I see with youth athletes in my practice include iron, calcium, vitamin D and omega 3s. The 2021 journal article “Youth athlete development and nutrition” also talks about the micronutrients iron, calcium and vitamin D and how they pertain to youth athletes.
Meal and snack planning and timing
In addition to knowing what to eat, knowing when to eat can also help your youth athlete to better fuel their bodies. I have had many athletes tell me that they are eating a great breakfast and lunch, but they have no idea when to eat snacks and dinner due to their sports schedule. I have also had athletes tell me that they want to build muscle, and they want to know when the best time is for a recovery meal/snack to help them do so. Knowing when to focus carbohydrates and when to focus on protein can also help fuel their performance. Another common challenge athletes come to me with is not knowing how to eat enough to stay full.
Athletes with food allergies, food intolerances and food allergic disorders
Food allergies and food intolerances add an additional challenge for youth athletes. As a pediatric dietitian, I help these athletes understand not only what foods they need to avoid, but I help them learn what foods they can enjoy. I help my clients to plan their diet to meet their estimated nutrition needs. I also provide them with tools to help them feel more comfortable when eating out while traveling for tournaments and give them suggestions of products and brands to try.
Nutrition management for gastrointestinal complaints
Gastrointestinal complaints are a common challenge among youth athletes. Complaints range from nausea, constipation, diarrhea and acid reflux. Reasons for gastrointestinal problems with youth athletes vary. Some reasons include not knowing what to eat or when, under eating, food intolerances, and GI disorders such as IBS, Celiac, acid reflux and IBD. I help my clients get to the root cause of their GI complaints.
Many youth athletes under eat without even knowing it due to their increased nutrition needs. Others don’t eat enough because they want to make a certain weight or look a certain way for their sport. It is extremely important that these athletes receive professional help from a qualified registered dietitian to help them meet their nutrition needs. Eating disorders often start with disordered eating. Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) is a term used to described when there is physical activity without enough energy availability. RED-S is common in youth athletes, and when suspected its important to obtain professional help.
Nutrition education for injury prevention and recovery
Under eating can result in injuries. Meeting with a dietitian can help prevent these injuries! When injuries happen, dietitians can also help! Pediatric sports dietitians can help with a plan to promote nutrition for healing. When I see patients with injuries, I review their diets to make sure they are including adequate protein, calcium and vitamin D. I will also help then understand that heir nutrition needs are different than during their sports season.
Nutrition education on hydration and dehydration
Have you ever wondered whether or not your youth athlete should be drinking sports drinks or water? Have you struggled with which sports drink is best for them? Or what about how much water should they have? Other challenges I see when it comes to hydration/dehydration include complaints of cramping and headaches. As a pediatric sports dietitian I am able to help you and your youth athlete understand hydration and dehydration and how to stay properly hydrated.
What are a Registered Dietitian’s qualifications
Did you know that a dietitian and a nutritionist are not the same thing? While a dietitian can call themselves a nutritionist, nutritionists are not able to call themselves dietitians. Nutritionist is not a regulated title. Registered Dietitians have to hold at least a 4 year bachelor’s degree (many also have a masters degree), meet specific requirements known as the didactic program in dietetics, complete a supervised internship program and pass a national registration exam. Dietitian’s have to then complete seventy five hours of continuing education every five years to maintain their registration.
As you now have read, I believe all youth athletes should see a dietitian! Dietitians are able to specialize in many different areas. I specialize in pediatric nutrition, and as a pediatric dietitian I work with many youth athletes. For my youth athletes, I offer both 1:1 counseling, parent talks, talks with coaches and team talks. Contact me to schedule a talk for your child’s sports team or to help your athlete 1:1. Also, don’t forget to join my mailing list to stay up to date on all of my sports nutrition news!