Supplement Savvy: More Questions, MOHR Answers - 9-18-06!

Have questions about the quality of your child's nutrition quality? This is an article you can give to your son and coach for detailed information on fueling young athletes. Get information on snacks, carbs, and more right here.

[ Q ] Hi Chris, my son is 14 years old and joined the high school football team this year. He was good enough to make the JV team and I want to make sure he's fueling his body properly. What supplements should he be taking to improve his performance?

Great question! First, you want to focus on whole foods for your child. In my experience, most 14 year olds are not eating a very high quality diet; they are often relying on fast foods, soft drinks, candy, pizza, and other foods that should really just make up a very small portion of the overall diet (ideally even less than that!).

Dietary Changes:

    With that said first focus on making some dietary changes before looking to supplements.


      Let's start with breakfast; does he eat breakfast at all? If not, he needs to start as this will help him get started for the day and fuel is mental and physical performance.

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    While you may not be hungry first thing in the morning, forcing yourself to eat or drink something is one of the most beneficial things you can do... Learn more about why breakfast is so important!
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      If he is, what is he eating? Does he grab a Pop Tart on the way out the door? Maybe he has a bowl of sugar coated cereal with whole milk. If that's the case, which I'll admit is still better than nothing, what changes can we make? How about a whole grain cereal - even something like Frosted mini-wheat can work since it's a whole grain cereal.

      Or how about trying to get him to switch to lower fat milk? If he's in a rush, have him blend up a healthy fruit smoothie---1 cup of yogurt, some fresh or frozen fruit, and some low fat milk would provide a ton of nutrients.

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Details
Pop Tart 393 4.6g 71.2g 10.4g Go.
Sugar Coated Cereal 401 4.4g 84.8g 5.8g Go.
Whole Milk 61 3.3g 4.7g 3.3g Go.
Whole grain cereal 344 10.1g 81g 1.6g Go.
Lower fat milk 35 3.4g 4.9g 0.2g Go.
Yogurt 63 5.3g 7g 1.6g Go.
[ Nutrient Database ]


      How about his next meal? Is he packing lunch or buying it at school? Again, if he packs it, work with him and encourage whole grain bread, fruit, low fat milk, turkey or chicken breast, peanut butter and jelly, etc. He needs quality nutrients so he can perform at practice and therefore not only make the team, but make the first string!


      If his lunch is very early in the morning, as mine was when I was in high school, he also needs a snack for the mid-afternoon. A granola bar, Clif Bar, mixed nuts and dried fruit, or something similar would work very well. After practice you can give him a low-fat chocolate milk to start the recovery process, then for dinner focus on all the same things we talked about - whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats.

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Details
Whole grain bread 246 9.7g 46.1g 4.2g Go.
Lower fat milk 35 3.4g 4.9g 0.2g Go.
Turkey 189 28.7g 0g 7.4g Go.
Chicken 197 29.8g 0g 7.8g Go.
Peanut Butter 589 24.1g 21.6g 49.9g Go.
Jelly 278 0.4g 68.9g 0.1g Go.
Granola Bar 471 10.1g 64.4g 19.8g Go.
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk 72 3.2g 10.4g 2g Go.
[ Nutrient Database ]

Fueling Young Athletes

Here are some more specifics you can give to your son and his coach for more detailed information on fueling young athletes.

After Game Nutrition:

    Summer is over, school is in session, and it is starting to smell (and feel) like fall in some parts of the country. What does this mean? Well, aside from parents freeing up a good portion of their day, it also means you have likely heard the sounds of whistles on soccer fields and have been driving your kid(s) to various activities and athletic practices.

    It seems as if parents are getting a lot more involved with their child's activities; they are not just a taxi service, but parents are often part of the practices and on game day - sometimes too much so!

    Parents often contact me looking for some nutrition advice for their child and they all swear their kid is going to at the very least get a college scholarship, while even more are going pro! Sound familiar?

    Hopefully it is true, but aside from the training they have, there's often one component of an overall program that's missing from making sure they're successful at all - nutrition.

    A friend of mine is a soccer coach for 8 and 9 year olds. I recently attended one of their games and am sad to say that at the end of the game, one of the parents brought snacks for the team (that's not the sad part). Rather than some orange slices, a sports drink, or something similar, they brought two things: large containers of Capri Sun and bags of chocolate chip cookies and potato chips!

    I cringed when I saw this thinking that if this is their diet after a game; I can only imagine what it looks like the rest of the day! And when I heard one mother say that her son doesn't usually eat this, but he "deserves" it for playing hard, I had to laugh (to myself, of course).

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    Now, I don't have children, so this isn't me proclaiming I am a gold medal parent. What I do know, however, is "rewarding" anyone with chips, cookies, and essentially a soft drink isn't the best for teaching them positive nutrition habits, and helping develop those "professional level" skills necessary to succeed.

    What I would encourage is "rewarding" them with healthier snacks; why not offer orange slices, bananas, apples, or something similar. Fruit not only provides a bevy of nutrients, but it also provides a great deal of fluids, which are particularly important during and after play.

    Low-fat chocolate milks are also fantastic drinks in terms of providing a whole slew of quality nutrients and fluid, in addition to providing some important recovery nutrients (namely carbohydrates and protein). They even make some milk that doesn't need to be refrigerated until opened, making them very functional if traveling and competing in athletics.

    Snacks From

Nutrition Tips For Young Athletes

Let's delve a bit into some specific nutrition tips for young athletes. All nutrients are of course important. What's particularly important is to let young athletes play their respective sport and learn the skills.

Nutrition plays a major role in the health and performance of anyone, so this too should be taught to children; just like with anything, the younger they learn and adopt positive habits, the more likely they are to remain through adulthood.

Let's First Talk About Carbohydrates:

    Carbohydrates should absolutely be the cornerstone of anyone's diet. The key, as I've discussed in the past, is to always "think fiber, not carbs!" There is a huge difference between white bread and whole grain, high fiber bread; a sugar coated cereal and oatmeal; French fries vs. whole potatoes or sweet potatoes. Focus on the quality of the carbohydrates.

    For example, definitely eat breakfast, but try a whole grain based cereal with some fresh fruit for the nutrients and fiber. Sandwiches should be made with whole grain bread, rather than their white counterpart. Snacks can be whole grain crackers with peanut butter, fruit or veggie sticks with peanut butter, etc. The list can go on.

    The focus of carbohydrates should always be on foods that provide a few grams of fiber per serving (exception is milk and yogurt, which are very healthy and carbohydrate based, but provide little, if any fiber).

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    Fruit and vegetables are also a crucial element to a healthy diet. Kids often shy away from them and parents don't always push them. However, research has suggested it can take as many as one dozen times to determine if a child likes a particular food. The key for a parent is to introduce kids to as many of these nutrient dense, colorful foods as possible! Make it fun. Here are a few ideas:

    • Ants on a log (celery with natural peanut butter and raisins).
    • Sailboats (apple slices with toothpicks holding a cheddar cheese "sail" - of course watch your child to ensure they don't eat the toothpick).
    • Homemade trail mix (mixed nuts, dried fruit, and some whole grain cereal).

    Keep in mind that dried fruit counts towards the total fruit intake for the day, as does 100% juice (of course this shouldn't be the mainstay, though, as whole fruit provides more fiber), along with fruit puree.

Protein Needs Of Young Athletes:

    In the world of bodybuilding, no other macronutrient has received the same level of attention as protein. Everywhere you look, everything you see, tells us we need more and more protein, whether you're trying to lose weight or gain muscle. But how about for adolescent athletes; do they too have higher protein requirements like the rest of us fitness enthusiasts?

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    As you know, they too are trying to improve performance, put some muscles on those bodies, and of course just improve overall health (at least we hope they are!).

    Of course protein plays a role and a very important one at that! Now, first things first, I am in the same boat as the folks on the Labrada Team in recommending food first! This is particularly true with children and adolescents; we need to teach them proper nutrition habits, which should include whole, nutrient dense foods rather than teaching them to immediately turn to supplements.

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    At the same time, there are quality supplements out there that can be of use. I would much rather have a teen athlete have a high quality protein shake, blended with some fruit versus a snack like those served at the soccer game I alluded to earlier, or fast food, which is way too common these days.

    • Do they need a protein supplement? No.
    • Will it make them into the next college or pro athlete? Of course not!
    • Can it be beneficial and a healthier option than many of the alternative high sugar, high fat foods marketed directly towards children? Absolutely!

    Other high quality protein sources include fish and other seafood, low or non fat milk or yogurt, chicken and turkey breast, lean red meat, tofu, mixed nuts, eggs, beans, natural peanut butter, and more. The greater the variety in the diet, the better as they will be getting the most "bang for their buck" in terms of various amino acids and other nutrients.

Chewing The Fat:

    Fat is another crucial nutrient for children; there have been a handful of scientific studies to even show that one component of omega-3 fats, DHA, is crucial in terms of brain development. Overall, though, healthy fats are important to provide DHA and the other important components in fat.

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    They do provide a lot of calories (over double that of protein or carbohydrates), which can be important for very active, young athletes who need more calories than most to develop healthy, strong bodies. Again, it's important to focus on quality here and not just quantity. Fish once again pops up as a great, healthy source of fat, along with egg yolks, olive oil, mixed nuts, flax oil, and others.

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    The fats we want to avoid or at least limit are those which are solid at room temperature (with few exceptions): butter, shortening, animal fat, etc. Those few exceptions are avocadoes and mixed nuts, which both provide a healthy dose of high quality fats. Don't overdo the fats, but definitely don't skimp on them either - moderation is king!


    These are actually the most important nutrient anyone can consume. The quality of the fluid is a struggle for kids in particular; they are surely drinking more fluids, but not the type we'd encourage. Over the past few decades, milk consumption has decreased dramatically and is being replaced with soft drinks.

    This is unfortunate because of the nutrients being lost without the milk and the empty calories they're being replaced with. Remember I mentioned earlier that 100% juice does count as fruit; however, we also don't want kids to live off this, as it doesn't provide all the same fiber and nutrients whole fruit does, in addition to being way too easy to over consume.

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    Keep in mind that 4 oz of juice counts as one fruit; this is 1/2 of a cup of juice. It would be very easy to drink 2 whole cups of juice, but you are less likely to eat the equivalent 4 whole oranges, meaning it is easy to pack in a lot of excess calories.

    Water is really the best option. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines do in fact make a recommendation to consume at least 3 servings of low-fat milk or other dairy products, and the majority of other fluids should be water. If you need to make water more exciting for kids, add a squeeze of orange, lemon, lime, or cucumber. And always keep a pitcher in the refrigerator, so there is cold water at their fingertips.

That's A Wrap!

In summary, here are a few tips to keep in mind when fueling young athletes.

  • Variety is crucial - the more the variety, the better.
  • The more fruits and vegetables each day, the better.
  • Think fiber, not carbs.
  • Protein is absolutely important, just as it is with adults.
  • Fat quality is crucial.
  • Be creative to get kids to eat a variety of foods.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
  • Very basic supplements, such as a high quality protein, are OK, within reason, but the food first approach is always the best with folks of all ages.

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As parents and coaches we must help our kids develop schedules that reflect their developmental needs. In this article I am going to share with you some tips to help with nutritional needs during school.
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Most important, make sure your child has a chance to try a variety of activities, has fun, and enjoys him/herself. At 9 or 10 years old, they are not trying out for the majors; they are trying to play and have fun.

Let them be kids, learn some basic skills, and camaraderie; it's not the Superbowl, World Series, or World Cup! In the meantime, feed them well and teach them positive nutrition habits that will stay with them for life!

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Find out how many grams of protein, carbs and fat are in the foods you eat, along with the full vitamin and mineral profile. This database contains data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
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