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Nutrition and Bone Health For Adolescent Athletes

The Importance of Proper Nutrition and Bone Health for Young Athletes

In youth sports, it’s super important for kids to eat right, especially to keep their bones strong and avoid injuries. These young athletes train hard, and good nutrition is key for them to perform their best and stay healthy. While everyone’s needs are different, getting advice from a nutritionist or doctor who knows about sports, growth, and any health issues can be helpful. They can give personalized tips to help young athletes eat well. But even without expert advice, there are some basic rules every young athlete can follow to stay strong and flexible on the field or court. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other important nutrients helps build strong bones, helps muscles recover quickly, and keeps energy levels up. By eating healthy, young athletes not only become better at sports but also set themselves up for a lifetime of good health. It’s not just about winning games; it’s about taking care of their bodies for whatever challenges life throws their way.

Caloric Intake For A Young Athlete

What Is Doctor Recommended?

Proper nutrition is crucial in athletic performance, with caloric intake playing a pivotal role in fueling the body for optimal function. Carbohydrates, constituting around 60-70% of an athlete’s diet, serve as the primary energy source crucial for endurance and power. Without an adequate carbohydrate intake from sources like fruits, vegetables, and grains, the body resorts to alternative energy stores, compromising performance. Meanwhile, proteins, comprising 12-15% of the diet, provide power for athletes but cannot be stored in excess. When carbohydrate stores are depleted, the body turns to protein for energy, and excess protein is converted into fat. Meats, fish, eggs, and legumes are rich sources of proteins essential for muscle repair and growth. While fats are necessary for energy, the type and amount consumed depend on the intensity and duration of activity. Saturated fats from animal products and unsaturated fats from vegetable sources play distinct roles in athletic performance. To optimize performance, athletes should adjust their diet based on the season or sport, emphasizing healthy meals rich in carbohydrates before events while avoiding solid foods and sugary drinks closer to the competition. Additionally, hydration is important, with increased water intake before and during events. Proper nutrition not only supports athletic endeavors but also fosters bone strength, particularly vital for young athletes. Calcium and Vitamin D, essential for bone development, reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, ensuring long-term health and vitality for athletes, regardless of gender. Consulting with pediatricians or dietitians can help tailor nutritional strategies to support growing bodies and athletic ambitions effectively.

Injuries as a Result of Weak Bones

The Dangers Of A Malnourished Athlete 

The dangers of malnutrition among athletes, particularly teenage girls and young women, extend far beyond performance setbacks. Engaging in competitive sports, especially those emphasizing technicality, aesthetics, endurance, or weight classification, can inadvertently propel athletes toward the female athlete triad. This syndrome encompasses three interconnected health conditions stemming from intense physical activity: energy imbalance, menstrual irregularities, and osteoporosis. Tragically, the pursuit of athletic success can morph into a hazardous obsession with body image, leading to detrimental eating habits. From caloric restriction to extreme dieting and even the misuse of diet aids, athletes who fall into the category of the female athlete triad risk jeopardizing their health. Insufficient nourishment disrupts hormonal balance, manifesting as menstrual irregularities or complete cessation, a condition known as amenorrhea. Moreover, the repercussions extend to bone health, as compromised estrogen levels and inadequate intake of essential nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D contribute to osteoporosis, a condition conventionally associated with older women. This double jeopardy of menstrual dysfunction and bone density loss underscores the urgent need for nutritional vigilance among athletes, as the pursuit of athletic excellence should never come at the expense of one’s well-being. It’s imperative for coaches, parents, and athletes alike to recognize the signs of malnutrition and prioritize holistic health.

Sports where broken bones are most common 

In sports, where physical fitness meets tough training, the risk of broken bones is a real concern, especially in activities that involve repetitive, high-impact movements. Stress fractures, small cracks in bones, often affect young athletes in sports like basketball, gymnastics, track and field, and even football or soccer. These fractures usually happen when tired muscles can’t absorb the impact well, leaving bones vulnerable to strain and breakage. Most commonly, these fractures occur in the lower legs and feet, worsened by sudden changes in exercise intensity, surfaces, or inadequate gear like worn-out shoes. Other factors like hormones, genetics, and diet can also contribute, particularly affecting women. For instance, dance, with its focus on staying slim, can put female dancers at risk. Similarly, gymnastics, cheerleading, and figure skating also pose dangers due to the pressure to look a certain way and perform difficult moves. Even long-distance running, demanding both endurance and energy, can lead to stress fractures, especially when combined with eating disorders or menstrual irregularities. To keep athletes safe, it’s crucial to recognize these risks and take preventive measures, like ensuring proper nutrition, enough rest, and supportive equipment, to avoid the threat of stress fractures.

Food & Drinks That Help Strengthen Your Bones 

To keep your bones strong and healthy, it’s essential to eat nutritious foods that provide the right kind of support, especially during growth spurts. Planning meals ahead of time and having healthy snacks available, like fruits, nuts, cheese, low-sugar granola bars, and whole grains, can help fuel your body with the energy it needs. It’s also crucial to stay hydrated, especially in the warmer months, so make sure to drink plenty of water. While milk is a well-known source of calcium, there are other options too. Non-dairy milk such as almond or soy are often fortified with calcium, providing up to 40% of our daily needs. Teens and adolescents should aim for around 1300 mg of calcium per day. Other sources of calcium include cheese, leafy greens like broccoli, kale, and bok choy, tofu, almonds, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Adding these foods to your diet can help strengthen your bones and support your overall health.

Adding supplements to your young athlete’s diet

In addition to focusing on nutritious foods, parents might want to think about giving their young athletes a vitamin D supplement along with calcium to help keep their bones strong. Vitamin D deficiency is common among young athletes, especially in areas with less sunlight, like where we live. Factors like wearing masks due to COVID-19 and spending lots of time indoors with phones and other technology can make it harder for kids to get enough vitamin D from sunlight. Plus, foods rich in vitamin D, like leafy greens and salmon, may not be favorites on every kid’s plate. By adding a vitamin D supplement to their diet, parents can ensure their growing athlete gets the support they need for healthy bones, even when the sun isn’t shining.

Maintaining A Healthy Diet As The Young Athlete Grows

When Should A Nutritionist Be Involved?

As a young athlete grows, maintaining a healthy diet becomes increasingly important to support their developing body and athletic performance. While parents play a vital role in providing nutritious meals and snacks, there comes a point where seeking guidance from a nutritionist or primary care physician can be immensely beneficial. These professionals can offer tailored advice and resources to ensure that the young athlete’s dietary needs are met as they navigate growth spurts, changes in activity levels, and the demands of competitive sports.

A nutritionist can provide valuable insights into specific dietary changes needed prior to major athletic events, such as competitions or tournaments. Whether it’s optimizing carbohydrate intake for endurance events or ensuring adequate hydration strategies, a nutritionist can help young athletes fine-tune their nutrition to enhance performance and recovery.

Furthermore, staying informed about sports nutrition is crucial for young athletes to achieve safe and successful outcomes. Nutrition plays a significant role not only in fueling performance but also in supporting overall health and well-being. Understanding the importance of nutrient timing, proper hydration, and the role of various macronutrients can empower young athletes to make informed choices about their diet.

In addition to seeking guidance from professionals, young athletes can also benefit from incorporating a variety of nutritious foods into their diet. Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats should form the foundation of their meals and snacks. By focusing on nutrient-dense foods, young athletes can ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs for growth, recovery, and optimal performance.

Ultimately, by staying proactive and seeking guidance from experts when needed, young athletes can cultivate healthy eating habits that will serve them well both on and off the field. Whether it’s consulting with a nutritionist for personalized advice or staying informed about the latest research in sports nutrition, prioritizing dietary health is essential for long-term success in sports and overall well-being.

Seeing TPOC For Broken Bones 

If you suspect your child has a broken bone, contact The Pediatric Orthopedic Center at (973) 538-7700 or by filling out the request an appointment form. The Pediatric Orthopedic Center is the premier NJ hub for pediatric orthopedics, with three offices throughout northern NJ. Having been the leader in pediatric orthopedics in this area for over 25 years, we are the largest and most award-winning pediatric orthopedic practice in the tri-state area.

Schedule an Appointment with a Specialist Today

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Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


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Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


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