Does Your Young Athlete Need a Multivitamin?
You hear advice about taking supplements all the time—take vitamin A for better vision, B for stress reduction, C for good skin. But which vitamin B? How much vitamin C? A stroll down the supplement aisle of your local supermarket will only confuse you further. After all, there are multivitamins that target every stage of life in addition to a slew of separate single vitamin and mineral supplements. By all accounts, it may seem like everyone should be taking a supplement. And, you may be left wondering if your young athlete really needs a supplement for better health or improved sports performance. It’s time for a little vitamin and mineral 101.
Vitamin and Mineral 101
Multivitamins provide a little added “health” insurance. Suppose your child is like most Americans and eats the same 20 to 30 foods every single week. Or, maybe he avoids certain foods that are packed with specific nutrients (oysters, for example, are packed with copper but kids in landlocked states rarely seek them out). In both of these instances, your superstar could be missing out on various vitamins and minerals. In fact, most people probably do not meet their vitamin and mineral needs through food every day.
Will falling short harm your kid’s health? There’s no clear-cut answer to this question as it likely depends on each kid’s individual situation. Will his or her sports performance suffer? No, unless they are deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral. And, therefore, supplementing with vitamins and minerals will not improve a child’s sports performance unless a true deficiency exists. Now, that being said, there are two minerals of concern in young athletes: calcium and iron.
- Calcium is Key: Adequate calcium intake is essential during childhood because kids are still developing bone mass. And, some studies show that many children do not meet their calcium needs every day. Skimp on calcium during childhood and you’ll never be able to recoup those bone building years as an adult.
- Iron is Important: Iron is also a concern, especially among young girls. In kids who are anemic, iron supplementation can improve athletic performance. If your child is lethargic, spaced out and fatigues easily during exercise, talk to your pediatrician about testing for anemia.
As a parent, there are no steadfast guidelines regarding multivitamins in children. The following five tips, however, can help you decide if your child may benefit from a multivitamin supplement.
Consider a Multivitamin for Your Child if Your Child:
1. Is a very picky eater or doesn’t eat balanced meals.
2. Has food allergies that impair the intake of specific vitamins or minerals (if he or she is allergic to milk for instance, you child will likely fall short on calcium).
3. Is a vegetarian or vegan.
4. Has a medical condition that impairs the absorption of certain vitamins or minerals.
5. Has an eating disorder or disordered eating. (Always get help from a mental health counselor and registered dietitian if your child fits in this category.)
Additional Vitamin and Mineral Tips for Kids:
- Avoid mega doses of vitamins and minerals (from one supplement or a combination of supplements and fortified foods). Mega dosing may give your child an upset stomach.
- If you want your child to take a multivitamin, choose one that contains 100 percent of the recommended dietary intake of each nutrient (or as close as possible). Also, opt for one with omega 3s if possible.
- Make sure your child eats or drinks three servings of dairy foods per day. If your child is lactose intolerant, they can typically still eat cheese and yogurt (both have less lactose than milk). If they avoid dairy altogether, opt for calcium and vitamin D fortified dairy alternatives such as soy, rice and almond milk.
- Keep all vitamin and mineral supplements out of reach of children—even older kids may not fully understand that these supplements are not candy.
- Take most supplements with food unless otherwise directed (and vitamin D as well as multivitamins should be taken with a meal that contains fat for optimal absorption).
Editor’s Note: Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sports nutrition expert who works with athletes throughout the country. Her website is: www.mariespano.com.
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