Feeding a young athletes isn't simple. Their requirements changes with stage of development, they can be simultaneously hungry and full at the same time (?), body image and social pressures come into play and they be fussy and limited in their food choices.
Here are some common concerns we hear in clinic:
"My young athletes is always hungry but eats so much food!"
It's hard to imagine just how much fuel your child is burning across a day. Your young athlete could very likely need more fuel than you even if they are much smaller. It is also worth considering the types of fuel your child is choosing throughout the day and after training, some foods are better for recovery and staying full than others.
"My young athlete has large snacks but doesn't eat much of their lunch or dinner."
This is a really common concern! Kids are often very good at eating when they are hungry and not eating when they are full (a good skill to have!). What I tend to see is this:
Early breakfast before a morning training session followed by a quick snack before school. This snack wasn't quite right and so they athlete is starving at first break where they fill up on the contents of their entire lunchbox. There's minimal food left for second break so they are again starving by the time they get home where they fill up on anything they can get their hands on. Come dinner time they are still full from afternoon tea. Hunger begins to kick in again later into the evening where they snack on whatever is convenient.
Sound familiar? Easy fix, all we need to do is redistribute their fuel at the times that matter most.
"My young athlete struggles to fuel properly for training sessions due to school hours."
Fueling around school hours can be tricky. They can be early sessions or straight after school with no time to go home and eat. We can work together to find a plan that will ensure your child fuels and recovers from their sessions.
"My young athlete is always tired and loses concentration at school in the last couple of periods."
This could mean that they need more calories than what they are currently having. Again, it is common for young athletes (especially health conscious athletes) to not meet their energy requirements. This could also relate to the timing or composition of their meals. Certain foods will keep your child fuelled for longer and particular nutrient deficiencies could lead to fatigue. We will make sure to look into all of these factors and develop a plan that will ensure your athlete's energy levels are even across the day.
"My young athlete is in her late teens but hasn't yet got her period, is this normal?"
No this is not normal and this is not okay. This could be a sign of severe energy deficiency which could have serious impacts on their health and performance. This is called 'Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome" (REDS). Essentially, an athletes may be in a serve deficit where the body doesn't have enough energy to function properly. It begins to shut off some of the body's less important systems, such as the reproductive system. Oestrogen levels decrease which in turn impacts bone metabolism. This can lead to weaker bones and increased risk of bone injury (eg stress fractures). Although it is easier to identify REDS in females, we can see this in males as well. If you suspect that your young athlete could have REDS, make sure to book them in with a dietitian asap to avoid any long term health or performance issues.