Sport supplements and young athletes: part 3 – Natural High

Vitamins

Our final article in this series focuses on vitamin, mineral and omega-3 supplements.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Young athletes’ needs for vitamins and minerals are greater than those of non-active children. Although the thought is often that supplements will enhance their health and performance through vitamin and mineral supplements, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that supplements would benefit performance. Vitamin and mineral supplements are not needed if consuming adequate energy through a variety of foods. Supplementation may be warranted in athletes eating a restricted diet or an unbalanced diet that excludes one or more food groups.

Multivitamin and mineral supplements that provide about 100 per cent of the recommended daily amounts (RDAs) are acceptable to take for insurance but could also be a waste of money if the athlete is consuming a healthy diet.

Young athletes should consume a varied and balanced diet including whole grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products and protein-rich foods.

Multivitamin and mineral supplements are generally safe for children and adolescents when taken in the dose recommended for them. Supplementation must never take the place of a healthy diet.

 

OMEGA-3

Omega-3 oils are essential fats found naturally in fish oils that play a vital role in healthy brain development function, vision, learning ability, coordination and concentration. They are also important for regulating blood flow, blood pressure and the immune response, and protecting against cardiovascular disease.

Claim: Omega-3 fatty acids increase the delivery of oxygen to muscles and may help improve aerobic capacity and endurance, speed recovery and reduce joint stiffness.

Mechanism: The minimum requirement for omega-3 fatty acids is 0.9 grams a day, which you can get from one portion (140g) of oily fish a week. The richest natural source of omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish with a recommended intake of two portions of fish a week including one serving of oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, herring or fresh tuna. Other food sources include nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for young athletes and they should be encouraged to get their daily quota from food sources. Omega-3 supplements are expensive but, for those who don’t eat fish, they may be a convenient alternative.

 

OMEGA-3 CONTENT OF VARIOUS FOODS

g/100g

PORTION

g/portion

Salmon

2.5

100 g

2.5

Mackerel

2.8

160 g

4.5

Sardines (tinned)

2.0

100 g

2.0

Trout

1.3

230 g

2.9

Tuna (canned in oil, drained)

1.1

100 g

1.1

Cod liver oil

24

1 teaspoon

1.2

Flaxseed oil

57

1 tablespoon

8.0

Flaxseeds (ground)

16

1 tablespoon

3.8

Rapeseed oil

9.6

1 tablespoon

1.3

Walnuts

7.5

1 tablespoon

2.6

Walnut oil

11.5

1 tablespoon

1.6

Pumpkin seeds

8.5

2 tablespoons

2.1

Omega-3 eggs

1 egg

0.7

Typical kids’ omega-3 supplement

2 capsules

0.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young athletes are uniquely vulnerable to the lure of supplements. This is due to increased pressure put on them to succeed on the sports field. They are also often looking for a ‘quick-fix’ rather than putting in the hard work, and they are attracted by the emotive claims made by the manufacturers. The problem is that very little research has been done on the long-term side effects or safety in athletes younger than 18 years of age. There is also a concern that the use of supplements by young athletes will create an ‘entry point’ to more serious compounds e.g. prohibited drugs.

Providing children with supplements creates a false sense of security and may encourage faulty eating habits. Another disadvantage of supplement use is that child athletes may erroneously associate improvements in performance with whatever supplements they may be taking. They may be less likely to attribute progress to training, hard work and a balanced diet. This type of false reinforcement may also encourage children to try other types of supplements and substances and lead to a snowball effect with undesired consequences.

For the young athlete, the key to health and performance cannot be found in any one food or supplement, but in a proper combination of foods that provides many different nutrients that the body requires. Variety and moderation is the best strategy to achieve balance.

Reference: Anita Bean’s sport nutrition for Young Athletes.(2010)

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