Health & Nutrition for Young Athletes

Athletes’ strengths lie in smart choices, not pills and energy drinks.

By Camille Grigsby-Rocca May 2, 2013

It’s not easy being a kid—growing strong bones, healthy muscles, and a sharp mind is a big job! For young athletes, the physical demands of participating in sports make getting plenty of rest and a balanced diet even more crucial. High-performance athletes age 8 to 80 can get personalized nutrition and training recommendations at OHSU’s Human Performance Lab. Its director, Dr. Kerry Kuehl, offers a few reminders for active kids.



School, homework, sports, and a social life leave kids with little time for the sleep they desperately need. Balancing these responsibilities is crucial for the young athlete and requires careful monitoring by parents. “Unfortunately, I wish I had a secret,” says Dr. Kuehl. “The truth is, if you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re going to pay for it sooner or later.” 





High-protein and high-antioxidant foods—lean meats, lots of vegetables—should power a young athlete’s diet. The highest protein intake of the day should come two hours before a workout, with a quick dose of antioxidants coming immediately afterward.  






“There is absolutely no place for caffeine or energy drinks in the lives of healthy children or healthy athletes,” Dr. Kuehl says. “In fact, added to the stress of cardiovascular exercise, they can cause serious health complications.” 





Be Aware 

A balanced diet and plenty of sleep should provide kids with the power they need to perform both on and off the court. If that’s not doing the trick, consult a doctor—health concerns unique to athletes (like runner’s anemia or other nutritional deficiencies) should be managed by a professional.  

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