Vitamins and Minerals for Youth Athletes
Vitamins and Minerals for Athletes
Vitamins and minerals serve hundreds of functions in the human body. Our body needs them. Fortunately, vitamins and minerals are found in almost every food you eat. Do you get enough nutrients in the food you eat to support the demands of training and competition? The key is to eat enough (both for calories and vitamins and minerals) and to make healthy choices along the way for your snacks and meals. You may need to eat more servings than normal from each of the four food groups to get enough energy and vitamins and minerals to support your training. Athletes need to pay special attention to the following nutrients:
Athletes need iron to help your body use and carry oxygen to active muscles. You may need more if you train hard. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, low motivation and an increase risk of getting sick.
- Have your iron checked periodically by your doctor. Athletes, especially women, teens, distance runners and vegetarian need to monitor their levels. Taking iron supplements can be dangerous if it is not needed. Too much iron from supplements can be toxic.
- Make sure you eat enough iron rich foods every day. Iron is found in:
- Meat, poultry and fish – The iron in these foods is absorbed best.
- Beans, lentils, seeds, soy, whole grain or fortified cereals, breads and pastas
- Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron so eat citrus fruit and juices, strawberries, bell peppers or broccoli.
B-vitamins are needed for releasing energy from food, building and repairing tissues and healthy red blood cells. You will get all of your B-vitamins from a well balanced diet with enough calories. If you avoid all animal products, include products with added vitamin B12 such as soy beverages and meat substitutes.
Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C and E
Antioxidants help protect your body’s cells from damage. You will get all you need from a well-balanced eating plan. Taking high doses of vitamin A and E and beta-carotene supplements can cause cell damage instead of preventing it.
- Vitamin A and beta-carotene are found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruit like carrots, apricots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
- Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, wheat germ, nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin C is found in many vegetables and fruit such as citrus, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes and broccoli.
Choose vitamin C rich foods if you are doing intense training. But be careful with supplements, doses as high as 2000 mg can cause diarrhea.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, muscles and nerves. Dairy products or fortified soy beverages, canned salmon, sardines and some orange juices provide both calcium and vitamin D.
The sun hitting bare skin creates Vitamin D. We do not make as much vitamin D in the Canadian fall and winter seasons. If you train mostly indoors, you may be at risk for low vitamin D. Experts recommend a supplement with 200 IU of vitamin D daily for ‘at risk’ athletes aged 19-50 years.
An excellent starting point for a healthy eating plan for athletes is to use My Food Guide offered as part of the Canada Food Guide through Health Canada. It is an interactive tool to personalize the food guide to your personal needs. Being a youth athlete is hard at times not knowing what to do to eat properly. This resource will really help.