Sports Nutrition for Teens: Important Vitamins and Minerals
Dietary and lifestyle concerns change as a person ages, but the core vitamins and minerals that can help with exercise performance will benefit a person of any age. Young people engaging in regular physical activity should ensure that they have a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals that will help their bodies perform and recover optimally. Here are some important vitamins and minerals to focus on:
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the human body. It is a necessary mineral to ensure healthy production of neurotransmitters and hormones, muscle recuperation, and hydration. Optimal magnesium status is also necessary for adequate absorption of vitamin D. Sources of magnesium include green leafy veggies (e.g. spinach), almonds, and sunflower seeds. If you suffer from chronic headaches, tight muscles and/or muscle spasms, insomnia, anxiety, and constipation, it may be a sign of low magnesium status.
Another important electrolyte depleted through sweat, potassium can be obtained from avocados (more than bananas!), bananas, spinach, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
Another helpful mineral for hormone production, potassium also has effects on regulating healthy blood pressure, influencing proper digestion, and aiding blood sugar control.
An especially important nutrient for menstruating women, about 70% of the body’s iron is found in red blood cells. As such, optimal iron stores are required for transporting oxygen from the blood to your tissues and vice versa. Low iron stores may result in easy bruising, hair loss, lack of menses, and low energy. If you are a vegan, you may require supplemental iron to ensure adequate energy for sport. Your doctor can look at your iron stores (ferritin) through bloodwork and propose the best strategy to optimize your levels. Foods rich in iron include red meat, liver, fish, green leafy veggies, and tofu.
Necessary for proper immune function, zinc is an important trace mineral for growth and wound healing. Just like magnesium, zinc is a necessary cofactor for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. If you’re an endurance athlete that relies heavily on carbohydrate intake, while consuming low levels of protein and fat, you might have a low intake of zinc.
It’s important to know that low zinc levels can mimic the symptoms of an eating disorder: anorexia, low bodyweight, fatigue, and a higher risk of osteoporosis. Other symptoms of low zinc status include a poor sense of taste and smell, suboptimal sex hormone production, and mood disorders.
Foods rich in zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
The sunshine vitamin! When people think about the effects of vitamin D they usually think of mood, but skeletal muscles are also major targets of vitamin D. Optimal vitamin D status ensures muscle cell growth, and suppresses myostatin; a negative regulator of muscle mass. Vitamin D supplementation in young male athletes with low vitamin D status was shown to increase the percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers and-- in turn --increased muscular power output.
Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, it can build up to unsafe levels if you are not closely monitored by a healthcare practitioner. Some symptoms of vitamin D toxicity include nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination.
Always consult with a healthcare practitioner before beginning any new nutritional supplement or medication. Young athletes stand to benefit greatly from an individualized approach to nutrition, and the right intake of vitamins and minerals could be the difference between poor and optimal sports performance.
Koundaourakis NE, et al. Muscular effects of vitamin d in young athletes and non-athletes and in the elderly. Hormones (Athens) 2016; 15(4): 471-488.
Micheletti et al. Zinc status in athletes. Sports Med 2001; 31(8): 577-582.
Volpe SL. Magnesium and the athlete. Am College Sports Med 2015; 14(4): 279-283.