Growing tweens and teens require more calories, vitamins, and minerals and young athletes need even more. As a parent, it’s important to encourage your sport stars to eat right to support their active lives. Complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein and hydration are typically top of mind when it comes to sports nutrition, but young athletes may not be getting enough of certain essential nutrients, like iron and calcium. Here are some tips to help make sure young athletes are getting the nutrients they need.
Iron plays an important role in sports as it carries oxygen in the blood to the lungs, muscles and all parts of our bodies. As teens grow, their muscle mass increases and blood volume expands, increasing their need for iron. Female athletes especially need to replace iron stores lost during menstruation. Increase iron at meals and snack by including:
- Lean meats
- Iron-enriched or iron-fortified grains such as cereals, breads, pasta and rice
- Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins and prunes
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
- Dried beans, peas and lentils
Vitamin C can increase the absorption of iron from plant sources. Be sure to include iron-boosting foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kiwis.
Adequate calcium intake by tweens and teens is needed to support bone growth, increase bone mass and aid in nerve impulses and muscle contraction. It is especially vital for young athletes as they are likely to lose calcium, as well as other minerals, through perspiration. Optimum bone health is critical as overuse and overtraining injuries are more likely to occur in adolescent athletes. Add these foods to meals and snacks:
- Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese
- Fortified plant-based milks such as soy or almond
- Fortified ready-to-eat cereals
- Calcium-fortified juice
- Calcium-set tofu
- Leafy green vegetables including collard greens, turnip greens and kale
- Beans including soybeans, chickpeas and black beans
- Almonds and almond butter
A well-balanced plate with an array of colors from fruits and vegetables can support the energy needs of your young sports stars. But, meals may not be enough. Try these power snacks to boost your kids’ nutrition.