Sports Nutrition for Youth Ages 13&Up… Part 2

It’s time to tackle Part 2 of Sports Nutrition, Ages 13&up. I’ve been pretty busy with my nutrition site (almost done), working on my IOC thesis and getting ready for our move to Texas. So I apologize for the tardiness in posting this next section. Along these same lines, I just did a podcast with Dr. John Mullen of Cor Training in Santa Clara California. We spoke on nutrition specifically for swimmers. We started off on youth swimming, but he asked several questions pertaining to masters age swimming as well. And for those that don’t know, Masters is really anyone age 18 or older. Think college age and up. The Podcast is about 35min in length, and can be heard here. Because I don’t read from a script, I sometimes forget things I had meant to say. Thankfully Dr. Mullen added some of the thoughts that I had meant to say. They are also on the same page as the podcast.


Everyone seems to be on a protein kick. The media hears something, and it’s spread far and wide. Sometimes they get things right, and sometimes they are wrong. In protein’s case, they got it right. But they took it to the extreme. Protein is very important for athletes, and youth athletes need more protein than their same age non athlete counterparts. But, when speaking with parents, some seem to think that is all they need. In reality, it is no more important than carbohydrates. Where you want to focus on is you just want to make sure you are taking in protein at the right times.

Protein Benefits:

  • muscle growth
  • muscle rebuilding/repair
  • satiety (makes you feel full/satisfied)


  • 30-60min post hard workout or race, you should be taking in 20-25g of protein.
  • There is really an optimum window to see the most benefit (the 30-60min), however if you are unable to get in the protein in the window, there is new evidence that shows protein synthesis can and will continue at a high rate for several hours. Just do your best to get it in as close to the window as possible.
  • There is no need for youth athletes to take in protein during practice or competition. The only times I recommend for athletes to take in protein while training or racing is if they are going over 4-6 hours. I can’t think of any youth athletes going over this amount. If they were, I’d want to re-consider the approach that the coach is taking.

Protein Types:

  • Dairy is the best protein for athletes due to the amino acid leucine. Leucine is one of the branch chain amino acids. These can’t be made by the body, they must be eaten. Leucine has the highest rate of protein synthesis. So in other words, it will help your muscles to grow, repair and rebuild the fastest.
  • If an athlete is vegan or lactose intolerant, there are many other high quality proteins in the market. These include eggs, chicken, fish, beans, nuts, legumes, peas, and protein powders derived from these.

How Much:

examples: 4oz chicken breast: 30-40g protein, 1 egg: 6g protein, 1/2 cup peas: 5g protein

Boys: 15-25% of daily calories, 1-1.5g/kg/day= 115-180g/day.

Girls: 15-25% of daily calories, 1-1.5g/kg/day= 83-150g/day

Periodizing Nutrition around your Season:

*not all coaches and athletes train using periodization. In fact I know of several national coaches who don’t. I find merit in it, so I think it’s a good discussion at least.

What is periodization: Some of you might not even know that you’re training via periodization. What it means is, your season is broken down into macro and micro cycles, where each one of those cycles is designed to elicit a specific training adaptation. Let’s look at swimming.

You have 3 “A” races or championships. I’m going to make this up, but let’s say they are in April, August and December.

  1. January- coming off the holidays, swimming long, moderate practice-maybe strength focus
  2. February- long moderate efforts, strength focus, starting to bring in some speed
  3. March- race specific efforts, higher intensity, shorter practices-taper
  4. April- A race
  5. May- back to longer more moderate/hard practices
  6. June- combo of moderate and hard
  7. July- race specific efforts, more rest-into taper
  8. August- A race
  9. September- back to longer more moderate/hard efforts
  10. October- moderate hard efforts
  11. November- race specific effort into taper
  12. December- A Race

So, looking at the calendar like this, a coach might be training a swimmer to have macro cycles of base yardage, strength yardage, building up towards race, race specific targets, taper, then racing.

Here are some other examples of something I created for a swim team.

Prep/Base Training: High volume, low to moderate intensity-can last several months
-Large calorie amounts to support training (up to 3-5,000kcal/day)
-Large amounts of carbohydrates-some carb reduction if needed
-Periodize macronutrients to maximize body composition changes
High Intensity/Specific Training: Moderate volume, moderate to high intensity- can last several months
-Moderate caloric amounts (2500-4,000kcal/day)
-High carb availability-quality training needs quality nutrition

Taper and Competition Phase: Lowest volume of training, high intensity-2-3 weeks
Reduce caloric intake to 2000-3000kcal to match energy expenditure
Goal is to fuel working muscles, while not gaining weight
Carbohydrate intake should reduce, however keep the percentage of macronutrients high- 50-60% carb, or up to 8-10g/kg in the days before

Recovery/Offseason (those few weeks)
Nutrition recommendations similar to youth of similar age
Some minor weight gain, no more than 5%

In the same way an athlete uses their season to build, focus on different areas, prepare for racing, then taper, you want to treat your nutrition the same way. When you are training easier days/periods, your nutrition could reflect less calories, less focus on carbohydrates. As your training gets harder, the focus should be shifting to more of a carbohydrate focus. Then, during taper, it’s key to keep up the carbs, while scaling back on overall calories so that extra weight being put on is avoided.

It’s also important to note that trying to lose weight should only occur in the off season, or base training where efforts are easy, to moderate. Once you are doing race specific efforts, you do not want the focus to be trying to lose weight, or your performance might suffer.

Disordered Eating:

Disordered eating is a special topic of mine. It is such a huge topic, that I’ll want to spend more time on it in a separate post. But here are some things I want you to take away:

  • Please do not put a huge emphasis on weight. It is important for athletes to understand the importance of a healthy weight, but this is different from really emphasizing it. Especially parents who comment on their own body weight. This is not healthy for youth athletes to hear.
  • Don’t use terms such as “bad food” or “good food.” Use terms such as “this food will benefit your performance” And make sure as parents, you are practicing what you preach.
  • Some athletes might be still in puberty, and their body is still growing and changing. Take this into consideration.
  • Young female (and male) athletes can be very sensitive about their weight-aesthetic sports have the highest rate of eating disorders. Aesthetic sports are those classified as sports where physique is highly regarded. Ex. gymnastics, swimming, figure skating, running, and for older athletes, body building.
  • Please have a physician, dietician or sports nutritionist on board so you have someone to work with. It is important to seek more guidance if you feel like your youth athlete, or someone you might coach is having troubles with food or appearance.


Quality nutrition is always recommended as the first step to achieving athletic success. Of course good coaching, training and sleep also come into play. But this is a question I’m always asked about. Athletes always want to know what is going to make them faster, stronger, etc. Just as some look at diet pills as a quick fix (that don’t work), athletes look at supplements. And there are certainly supplements that will be beneficial for athletes.

Here’s my take.

  1. Put all your ducks in a row with training, coaching and sleep
  2. Each high quality foods
  3. Use functional foods
  4. Try supplements if your coach/parents are ok with them.

What are Functional Foods:

  • Foods that can be performance enhancing by either performance gains, recovery gains, immune system gains and overall health gains.

My top Functional Foods: (in no particular order)

  • Probiotics- examples: fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut- assist with GI health and the immune system- read more
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: fatty fish like salmon, nuts- assist with inflammation- read more
  • Tart Cherry Juice- assists with fatigue, inflammation and soreness- read more
  • Beets- beet juice or whole beets-assists by providing nitrates, decreasing the amount of oxygen needed to do a specific exercise, making it easier-read more

So try those, then if you’d like, these supplements have a lot of good research behind them. I am still a fan of most youth athletes only experimenting with quality nutrition and functional foods. If parents, coaches and physicians are on board, here are 3 to try.


  • Creatine– creatine is found in meat, but is more commonly heard about in supplement form. I have done an entire blog post on this supplement. If you’re interested, read more
  • Caffeine– a very common supplement that has a lot of great info about it. Some youth athletes are already drinking coffee. When I was a youth athlete, this was not the norm. Most research finds that caffeine helps with performance taken in amounts up to 6mg/kg (usually 3-6mg/kg). So a 120lb athlete=55kg=327mg caffeine. This can equal 2-3 cups of coffee. Caffeine powder is deadly, so please don’t attempt to make your own caffeinated drinks with it. Stick to coffee or a tablet. Also, there is a max dose allowed for competition in college. NCAA  rules are 15mcg/ml, which is the equivalent to about 15 cups of coffee in one sitting. I’m not sure if anyone could survive that, although someone must have to be able to create that limit.
  • Beta Alanine-  one of the non essential amino acids. It has been determined to be the rate limiting step in the production of carnosine. Carnosine is beneficial to athletes as it is a intracellular buffer. So, as exercise intensity goes up, so does lactate production and the release of H+ ions. It is these hydrogen ions that cause the burning pain when exercising. If you can buffer the hydrogen ions, you’ll be able to exercise longer without slowing down or needing to stop. Beta alanine is a supplement that doesn’t work for everyone, so you’ll need to take it to be able to tell if it has a noticeable effect on yourself or the athlete.

*If an athlete takes a vitamin  or another supplement, please be sure it’s NSF certified- This will ensure that it has been tested and does not contain any banned substances.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 4 part series on sports nutrition for youth athletes, ages 12&under and 13&up. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below. Please pass this on to anyone that you think might benefit from it.



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