What’s the bottom line when it comes to vitamins and supplements for athletes?
The subject of vitamins and supplements for athletes can fill books, but in this post I am going to give you a very simple tutorial on what’s best for your child.
This post is sponsored by Smarty Pants Vitamins, the “good gummy” that uses good eco-friendly easily absorbed ingredients, delivers vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fish oil, and matches every bottle bought with a matching grant to Vitamin Angels, a non-profit that helps mothers and children around the world gain access to life changing vitamins and minerals.
In an ideal world, your child would get all the nutrients and vitamins he or she needs from a balanced, healthy diet. Even if you feed your family healthy dinners and stay away from junk food, other factors will keep your children from eating meals that are 100% wholesomeness—busy schedules, visiting with friends or family who don’t care about eating healthy, and going to events where healthy food choices are not an option.
And let’s be honest, every once in a while, you just have to let them eat junk.
So there’s really no argument that vitamins are a good idea for your kids. But what about kids who play sports? What vitamins would benefit them? Or maybe you’ve wondered about what supplements would be good for your older athletes.
Let me start by saying that I am not a nutrition expert, unless being a mom qualifies me to have some common sense in the area! So this information is based on my research from conversations and from written experts. Basically, I did a little of your homework for you when it comes to vitamins and supplements.
Athletes and Vitamins
Duffy McKay, from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (also a former high school wrestler and coach) recommends that young athletes stick with natural supplements such as fish oils, multi-vitamins, whey protein, or probiotics. These are safe for athletes ages 10-18. If your child is younger than that, McKay suggests that you consult with a pediatrician.
Obviously the ideal is for you to focus on your athlete getting the nutrients he or she needs from:
- Milk and dairy products like cheese and yogurt (preferably low-fat products for kids over age 3)
- Plenty of fresh fruits and leafy, green vegetables
- Protein like chicken, fish, meat, and eggs
- Whole grains like steel-cut oats and brown rice
But if your child fits into one of these categories, then vitamins are a good idea:
- Kids who don’t eat regular, well-balanced meals made from fresh, whole foods
- Picky eaters who aren’t eating enough
- Kids with chronic medical conditions like asthma, or digestive problems, (talk with your child’s doctor first before starting a supplement if your child is taking medication)
- Kids who eat a lot of fast foods, convenience foods, and processed foods
- Kids on a vegetarian diet (may need an iron supplement), a dairy-free diet (may need a calcium supplement), or other restricted diet
- Kids who drink a lot of soda, which depletes vitamins and minerals from their bodies
This is especially true if your child is active or plays sports, because even though vitamins do not provide energy, they are crucial for turning food into energy. There is research that suggests that athletes may have higher vitamin needs because of their activity, but the Institute of Medicine does not give vitamin recommendations especially for athletes. Taking vitamins will not necessarily enhance your child’s performance, but a shortage will not help it either.
If you do give vitamins to your kids, follow these tips:
- Put vitamins out of reach of children, so they don’t treat them like candy.
- Don’t argue over food, just give your child a chewable vitamin after the meal. Fat-soluble vitamins can only be absorbed with food.
- Try a chewable vitamin if your child won’t take a pill or liquid supplement.
- Consider waiting until a child reaches age 4 to start giving a multivitamin supplement, unless your child’s doctor suggests otherwise.
- Consider a vitamin that is non-GMO, made with organic sweeteners or preservatives. SmartyPants vitamins are an all-in-one complete gummy vitamin that combines nutrients like omega 3s, soluble fiber, vitamins D3 + B12—these are tough for your child to get in the right amount in their diets. SmartyPants is also made with eco-friendly ingredients
- Vitamins are not meant to be a replacement for good eating. Remember, healthy kids get their best start from what you put in your grocery cart!
- Remember that the most common vitamins and minerals that should be in an athletes’ diet are calcium and vitamin D, the B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, as well as some antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, β-carotene, and selenium. (www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717046_8)
Athletes and Supplements
Perhaps the more pressing issue is the question of athletes and supplements, particularly older athletes. In this article, I will address only two: creatine and protein.
High school athletes often look to gain any edge they can to compete. Research from the Taylor Hooton Foundation indicates 35% of middle school and high school athletes are using protein supplements.
What’s more alarming is that 5.9% of male high school athletes and 4.6% of female high school athletes are using anabolic steroids to gain a competitive edge. Furthermore, popular over-the-counter supplements like pre-workout boosters (i.e Cellucor C4, NO-XPLODE, etc) which contain high doses of caffeine and stimulants that are banned by the NFL, fill the locker rooms of many high school programs. (http://www.healthfitnessmag.com/Health-Fitness-Magazine/March-2014/Should-High-School-Athletes-Take-Supplements/ )
Without fully understanding what they are doing, high school athletes turn to supplements because they are under-fueled to keep up with the energy and calories they burn. The honest truth is that a few changes to their diet would result in muscle growth, fat loss, improved strength and quicker recovery.
One of the most widely used dietary supplements that is well researched in athletes (over 1,500 studies), and is safe, is Creatine. Unfortunately, there are no studies to measure if there are any side effects in athletes under the age of 18. (http://www.healthfitnessmag.com/Health-Fitness-Magazine/March-2014/Should-High-School-Athletes-Take-Supplements/ )
Quite honestly, I was not a fan of my son trying creatine. Fortunately, his experiment was short-lived when he realized there was just too many unknowns when it came to creatine.
Derek Newcomer, a personal trainer who operates Integrity Fitness and Sports Development in Harrisburg, believes that athletes shouldn’t use creatine until they are out of high school. Even then, he says, it’s often used as a quick fix, when in fact, there’s nothing better than a good diet.
Dr. Michael Cordas, medical director of PinnacleHealth Sports and Medicine Center in Camp Hill, maintains there is no good use for creatine, which more than half of high school and college athletes say they take.
The bottom line? Young athletes should find ways other than creatine to get the nutrients they need. You can read more about the pros and cons of creatine here.
It’s important to determine how much protein your young athlete needs. For someone who trains or competes at least 3 days a week, the recommendation is between 1.0 grams/kg/day and 1.7 grams/kg/day, depending on the intensity of the program.’
Nutritionist Jenn Braddock from MakeHealthyEasy.com explains that there are a few good reasons for a young athlete to try a protein supplement:
- He or she struggles to eat a high quality diet.
- He or she struggles to eat enough quantity of food during the day.
- Their goal is to gain strength and power as a result of hard training, which requires a much higher protein intake.
- They struggle to stay healthy, either from injury or respiratory infections.
Busy kids who don’t always have time to eat a balanced meal may be short of a daily protein goal. Young vegetarians as well as kids who fill up with carbs could also be lacking protein in their diets. If so, wise use of protein powder can make up the difference.
It’s important not to overdo protein supplements. Excess protein can be hard on the kidneys and liver and cause unwanted weight gain, calcium loss and dehydration. Athletes who are training hard shouldn’t consume more than 2 to 2.5 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. (lesliebeck.com.)
It has been said that there is no magic pill for results in any area of life. And this is also true of protein suppolements. They are not a magical solution for building strength and muscle. Helpful, yes. Miraculous? No.
Here’s some ways that MakeHealthyEasy.com suggests parents can include a protein supplement in their athlete’s day:
- Mixed in breakfast smoothies.
- Mix a single packet of powder with water right after workout to refuel body.
- Make an evening smoothie or milkshake with powder to get extra nutrients and help reduce a super strong appetite.
A couple of more things to remember when it comes to protein:
- Look for one without artificial sweeteners and flavors.
- Choose a protein powder rather than a ready-made protein shake. Many premixed protein drinks have fillers and added sugars and some may even contain ingredients that could be unsafe for teens.
If you have questions about nutrition for your athlete, please check out my friend Coach Mike Guevara, Performance and Wellness Coach. You can find him on instagram at MrDoItMoving.
If you have questions about vitamins, check out SmartyPants, who, by the way, makes adult vitamins too!