Weight For Young Athletes

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For all children, normal growth and development should be the top priority. Their weight should never be manipulated to meet goals required for sports!

Remember: Child athletes aren't the same as teen and adult athletes. Because they're growing and because their growth spurts aren't always predictable, their body composition can't be judged in the same way. At certain times-for example, before puberty-a child's body naturally stores more body fat to prepare for the next growth spurt. And each child matures at his or her own time and rate.

An eating approach for sports can't change the genetic "body clock" and so speed up physical changes that enhance athletic performance. Supplements and ergogenic aids that are promoted to build muscle, prevent fat gain, or improve performance are never appropriate for children and teens! For more about healthful eating during the childhood years, see "Eating ABCs for School-Age Children"in chapter 16.

For young athletes, weight goals should be healthy ones. A distorted body image that drives overexercising and undereating can lead to serious developmental and health problems. That includes the "female athlete triad": a problem of disordered eating, low bone density, and amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation).

Always talk to your doctor about the best weight for your child. An inaccurate assessment may result in a weight goal that isn't healthy.

For more information about body weight, see "Compete in a Weight Category?" later in this chapter.

exercise in hot weather. Protective gear used in many sports, such as hockey and football, hinders their bodies' ability to cool off, too.

To protect children from becoming dehydrated:

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of cool fluids before, during, and after physical activities.
  • Offer regular fluid breaks (every fifteen minutes) and ensure that fluids are readily available. Perhaps give them a water bottle. Once they're thirsty, they're already on the way to dehydration.
  • Weigh them before and after exercise, then replace fluids: 3 cups per pound of weight loss.
  • Supervise them carefully, especially on hot days, when fluid needs are even greater.

Refer to chapter 16, "Food to Grow On," for more about food for active kids.

During Pregnancy and Breast-feeding

Pregnancy. With their doctor's approval, active women may continue their sport—at least in the earlier part of pregnancy. Less active women may initiate low-level activities gradually—again with their doctor's approval. Being physically active during pregnancy offers many benefits, among them a psychological lift, optimal weight gain, better aerobic fitness, and an easier labor and delivery

If you're a pregnant woman, or planning to be, ask your doctor about precautions. Overheating your body from exercise, a sauna, or steam room early in pregnancy can affect the development of your unborn baby. If you have anemia, hypertension, diabetes, and other health problems, rigorous activity during pregnancy may not be advised.

All the nutritional issues that relate to a healthy pregnancy apply to female athletes, too. The guidelines? Eat a varied and balanced diet—with enough energy to support your pregnancy, your own needs, and the demands of physical activity. If your energy intake is too low, you may not gain enough weight and your baby may not grow adequately.

Fluid replacement, always important, has even more health implications now. During pregnancy you need more fluids as your own and your baby's blood volume increases. If you don't drink enough, you're at greater risk for dehydration and overheating.

Breast-feeding. With a doctor's guidance, most women can engage in sports or some other form of regular physically activity if they're breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding requires an additional 330 to 400 calories a day for milk production. With more physical activity, you need more; the actual amount depends on the duration and the intensity of your workout.

MyPyramid offers guidance for planning a varied, balanced, and moderate eating plan during breast-feeding—whether you're an athlete or not. Your fluid needs increase during breast-feeding, too. Without exercise, you need about 4 cups more, or at least 15 cups daily from food, beverages, and drinking water. When you work out, drink even more to avoid dehydration.

For more about healthful eating and physical activity during pregnancy and breast-feeding, see "You 're Expecting!" and "For Those Who Breast-feed" in chapter 17.

For Vegetarians

Are you among the athletes and physically active people who choose a vegetarian eating style? Vegetarian eating can provide enough fuel and nutrients for peak athletic performance—if you choose meals and snacks carefully with a variety of plant-based foods.

As with any high-performance diet, carbohydrate-rich foods should provide the most food energy— usually not a problem for vegetarians. Follow the advice from MyPyramid (vegetarian-style). And focus on a varied and balanced diet.

If you're a vegetarian who consumes dairy foods and perhaps eggs, getting enough of most nutrients, including protein, poses little challenge. If you're a vegan who eats no foods of animal origin, choose carefully to ensure adequate intake of protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and perhaps energy (for muscular athletes, who use more energy).

For some vegetarian athletes, consuming enough energy—from an eating plan of bulky, plant-based foods—is a challenge. Eating six to eight meals or snacks a day might be a practical solution. See chapter 20, "The Vegetarian Way."

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