Joe Rossi, NASM-PES
Parents with sport-oriented children want to be involved and informed in both their childs athletic activities and nutritional needs. One of their common questions is about protein, which plays a vital role in childrens development as well as in their performance.
Parents with sport-oriented children want to be involved and informed in both their child’s athletic activities and nutritional needs. One of their common questions is about protein, which plays a vital role in children’s development as well as in their performance. Although there is no magic number for the amount of protein kids should consume, there are definitely guidelines to follow.
Protein is a large molecule that contains from 10 to 100 amino acid molecules and is needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells, including muscle cells, and for the production of enzymes, hormones, and DNA. Not only is protein responsible for repairing muscles damaged from sports and training, protein is also needed to make red blood cells, boost the immune system, and keep hair, nails, skin, bones, and organs healthy.
Active Children Eat More
Working closely with active kids and young athletes, I cannot tell you how many parents come to me and ask if it is okay that their children are eating astronomical amounts of food after they get home from their day. They also ask if there is anything wrong with their children consuming high amounts of protein.
First things first: There is nothing wrong with an increased appetite in an active child. The demand for more food is there because of the greater level of activity. The periods of rapid growth in teens only compound their hunger. During these growth spurts, the increased metabolism makes the body demand more nutrients. Because of this combination, it may appear to parents that their child is eating all the time.
Liver and Kidneys Work Overtime
In general, parents should not worry, but they do need to be aware of the dangers of believing that more protein is better, and that too much protein can’t hurt. Although children and adolescents have a slightly higher need for protein than adults do, because young people are still growing, there are risks involved with consuming too much protein. Linda Boeckner, a nutritional specialist at the University of Nebraska, warns that “Extra protein makes more work for the liver and kidneys, which have to handle the extra nitrogen from the amino acids. This can lead to an increased risk for liver and kidney problems in later years. Also, more water will be needed to help the kidneys handle the workload of excreting nitrogen as urea, so there is a greater risk for dehydration.”
Parents Can Help
Although the role of protein is important in a sports-oriented child, the role of parents teaching their children about proper nutrition is even more important. Most kids are eating too much of the wrong foods and need help in building a solid food foundation first. Kids require a balanced diet that includes healthy forms of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat are great sources of protein, while colourful vegetables and fruit such as broccoli, asparagus, and melon make up healthy carbohydrates. Fats that can be added to a child’s diet should come from mixed nuts and seeds, avocados, coconuts, and olive oils.
Parents can also teach their children about portions. When sitting down to eat a meal or having a snack, a child should have one portion of protein and one of carbohydrates. A portion of food is equal to the size of a child’s clenched fist or the palm of their hand. Each portion contains adequate protein and carbohydrates to provide a child with enough nutrients for growth and fuel for activity. A child should eat a minimum of four and a maximum of seven portioned meals daily.
Summing it All Up
In order to keep their young athletes healthy, parents need to ensure their children have a constant influx of nutrients throughout the day. Protein, while extremely important, does not supply all of a child’s increased nutritional requirements for growth and performance. The best way to meet the needs of children involved in sports is through a balanced approach.