Youth and Junior Athletes
Youth and junior development is the future of triathlon. As more young athletes enter the developmental pipeline, coaches need to be aware of how nutrition can impact these impressionable athletes. Little research exists that outlines the nutrition knowledge and dietary practices of youth and junior athletes. The little information that does exist suggests that these athletes in particular are generally uninformed about sound nutritional practices specific to their needs. This places youth and juniors at a high risk for poor nutritional status and nutritional deficiencies.
The nutritional requirements for youth (5-13) and junior (13+) athletes are similar to adults, with the most significant difference being the higher caloric need that supports growth. young athletes generally have a poor knowledge of nutrition and its impact on health and performance. Their main source of nutrition information is from teachers, parents and coaches. If dietary intake is insufficient in terms of the needs for growth, then the energy demands for sports training can have a potentially negative impact on the growth and biological development of the youth and junior athlete.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement emphasizes that:
• Under high climatic heat stress, physically active children do not respond physiologically as well as adults. When compared to adults, children and adolescents absorb more heat from the environment when it is hot, sweat less efficiently, and produce more metabolic heat during exercise.
• Juniors are more susceptible to dehydration and heat illness when active in the heat.
• As the season changes from cold to warmer weather, juniors acclimate better to the heat by reducing intensity of activities lasting longer than 15 minutes. The coach can gradually increase intensity and duration of activity back to normal levels over a 10 to 14 day period.
• Juniors need to drink enough fluids to replenish fluid losses incurred during training. Although water may be readily available to drink, a flavored beverage may be preferred as juniors will drink more of it. Another way to enhance a young athlete’s thirst is to include a flavored beverage that contains sodium chloride, as this helps to increase voluntary drinking by up to 90% with some estimates.
The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for fluid intake during activity are:
• 88 lbs (40kg) should consume ~ 5 oz (150 ml) per 20 minutes of activity
• 132 lbs (60kg) should consume ~ 9 oz (250 ml) per 20 minutes of activity
Under no circumstances should coaches recommend any nutrition or dietary supplements to children or adolescent athletes. The athlete’s physician or licensed nutrition professional should handle supplementation issues. In addition, coaches should exercise extreme caution when discussing body shape, weight or appearance since athletes at this age are very impressionable and at risk for the development of an eating disorder.