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Nutrition through the life-span of an athlete

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

Nutrition for Adolescent, Young, or Adult athletes In the general population, growth and their daily activities are to be considered to establish their nutrition requirements. But for both professional and recreational athletes, nutrition should be provided not only for their growth but also for the extra training they are undergoing and to optimize their performance in that sport. It is important for them to have their three big meals along with small snacks mainly before and after training. Parents, coaches, and guardians need to encourage the athletes to maintain this for their benefit. The following guidelines can be followed by adolescent and young athletes for their nutritional requirements. It should be noted that the diet should be planned by taking into account their training, age, height, weight, and other lifestyle factors.

Carbohydrates: Foods rich in carbs should be timed well and planned according to their intensity and duration of the training or event. It can range from 5-10g/kg of body weight (BW) of carbs per day. This will also help to meet the regular energy demands of the body.

Protein: 1.3-1.8g/kg BW of protein should be provided in the daily diet. This helps in muscular recovery and satisfies the need for growth during this age. 30-40g of protein is advised in every meal after the age of 18. It is also important to provide a protein-rich snack/meal within 30-45 mins after the training or event.

Fat: Good fats are advised to be provided like walnuts, cheese, avocado, nuts, oilseeds, etc. 20-25% of the energy should come from fats. Intake of saturated and trans fatty acids like palm oil, coconut oil, lard, mayonnaise, lamb, sausages, etc. should be less when compared to unsaturated fatty acids.

Micronutrients: Among the many vitamins and minerals, iron, calcium, and vitamin D are the most important. Iron helps in carrying oxygen all across the body and calcium and vitamin D help in bone growth which is very important during this age. Standing in sunlight between 11:00 am to 2:00 pm for 10-20 mins would help in generating adequate Vitamin D in the body. But if the deficiency is too much or if there are certain skin problems, then supplements should be used.

Fluids: Fluids should be monitored closely as there may be fluid and electrolyte losses after training. Re-hydration is very important for a proper recovery. For rehydration, water intake should be 1.25 times the weight lost during the training.

Till the age of 18, supplements should not be advised. But if the diet does not provide them with all the nutrients or if the athlete is suffering from gastrointestinal problems that will affect the absorption of the nutrients, supplements can be suggested after consulting a physician or a nutritionist. The supplements suggested should be checked with the WADA doping substances list before prescribing to the athlete.

Nutrition for master athletes

Master athletes are those who are above 35 years and still engage themselves in regular training and sports at a competitive level. The energy requirement will be higher than that of their sedentary counterparts, but the choice of food should meet all their nutritional requirement. For athletes in this age group, certain changes occur in the body like a decrease in muscle mass, type II muscle fiber atrophy, changes in enzymes and hormones, etc. Hence small modifications in the diet and exercise can help in their performance as well as maintain their health. Here are some recommendations for the diet of a master athlete.

Carbohydrates: Around 55-60% of the energy should come from carbohydrate sources. The glycogen stores in the master athletes might be less due to some underlying condition like diabetes and hence the carbohydrate selection must be very careful. Low to medium glycaemic foods like whole wheat, brown rice, legumes, and oats should be advised.

Protein: Leucine-rich foods like chicken, tuna, tofu, pumpkin seeds, eggs, etc, should be provided to maintain muscle mass after strenuous activity and also increase satiety. 12- 15% of the energy should come from protein sources. But, protein content in the diet should be decreased to 10-12% of the total energy, if the athlete is suffering from kidney disorders which is a common complication of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.

Fat: Fats from good sources (unsaturated fatty acids) should be provided. Unsaturated fatty acids are seen in fatty fish like sardine, mackerel, nuts, oilseeds, avocado, etc. the ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids should be 3:1. This is very important for athletes having cardiovascular disorders.

Micronutrients: Micronutrients are very important to this age of athletes. Calcium and Vitamin D should be provided in adequate amounts as the bone minerals might be deteriorating at this age. Multivitamin tablets can be taken after consulting with a physician or nutritionist.

Certain medications are considered to be doping substances like beta-blockers. But by applying to Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), the athlete can use the medication. Also, certain micronutrient absorption is hindered due to medicines. One should keep all this in mind and plan a diet accordingly.


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