Calcium and Vitamin D - Young Athletes

 

What parents of youth athletes should know about calcium intake, vitamin D and peak performance

Part 1 in a series addressing important nutrients for peak sports performance and supplementation.

Supplementation enhances youth athletic performance, and experts agree that vitamins and minerals do impact sports performance when deficient. This article will specifically address the need for Calcium and vitamin D in young athletes.

As the mother of young athletes I understand the challenges of getting kids to consume balanced and nutrient-rich diets on a consistent basis. Despite our efforts to provide better nutrition for our children, many of us are dealing with so many challenges, including picky eaters, food allergies or sensitivities, kids running out the door without eating breakfast, special diets, etc., which all conspire to create an inconsistent and less than ideal eating habit, and in turn lead to impaired intake of essential nutrients like vitamin D  and Calcium.

Many athletes are deficient in key nutrients like vitamin D and Calcium needed for optimal sports performance, and do not know it. One question all parents should ask themselves is “how do we know if our youth athlete is getting the nutrients he or she needs for peak performance?” According to Dr. Marie Landry, pediatricians can but typically do not test for vitamin deficiencies in children unless there is a specific, demonstrated medical need. Guess what? Your desire to have your youth athlete perform well on the field is not a “specific, demonstrated need”! Now, we do know that nutrient needs are higher during adolescence than most any other period of life, and so this is a topic all parents should be paying attention to. Despite this basic fact, we spend precious little time and energy ensuring that our kids follow a consistent and nutrient-rich diet with sufficient levels of Calcium and Vitamin D.

Youth athlete & obtaining enough vitamin D & Calcium.

Let’s focus our attention on vitamin D & Calcium. Vitamin D helps immune and muscle function, and is associated with muscle strength and performance. Vitamin D also increases the efficiency of the body's absorption of calcium up to 30 to 40 percent, and phosphorus - which is needed for bone strength - by up to 80 percent . This is one reason that milk is often advertised as being “enriched with vitamin D.”

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for ages 1-18 is 600IU, yet many experts agree that in the absence of adequate sun exposure, most children and adults require 800- 1000 IU/day from dietary sources. Many athletes, even those that train outdoors on a regular basis, can be vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency. The punch line is that sun exposure does boost vitamin D levels, but the use of sunscreen (which is certainly recommended) along with somewhat limited and unpredictable exposure, all conspire to limit the utility of relying on sun-exposure alone.

Vitamin D can be tested with a simple blood test at your doctor’s office, but taking 1000 IU in supplemental form is easy, cost-effective, and advisable as levels may change throughout the year, depending on sunshine exposure and diet. Safety considerations typically do not begin until 10,000 IU of daily intake. Whether you supplement or not, consume foods rich in vitamin D from fortified milk, cheese, fatty fish, fortified cereal, and eggs. With my kids, I do not take chances and supplement using a high quality children’s/ teenager multi-vitamin containing 1000 IU of vitamin D.

Calcium is critical for athletic functions.  It is needed for strong bones, assists with vitamin D absorption, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and hormone secretions.

Kids ages 4-8 require daily 1,000mg of calcium and kids 9-18 years require 1300mg. Some studies report that most youth athletes do not meet their minimum daily calcium requirement. In particular, youth athletes who are vegetarians, lactose intolerant, allergic to cow’s milk, have eating disorders or other conditions are at higher risk of calcium deficiency and should consider supplementing.

Getting needed calcium from food sources should be a primary goal. Good food sources include cheese, milk, yogurt, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips collard greens, fortified cereal, orange juice, soybeans, fortified soymilk, and enriched breads. A good resource for food recommendation is http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/ .

To track your athlete’s calcium intake level consider using food tracker site or application such as http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ or consult a sports nutritionist. For a high quality Chewable calcium supplement containing vitamin D3, Magnesium, and Silicon for best absorption and formulation for building bones, optimizing mineralization and ensuring proper calcium use,  my family consumes Active Calcium Chewable or Calcium tablets from USANA.

As a Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach with an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling, I prepare young athletes and their parents to improve eating lifestyles, increase energy, lose weight, and improve performance. Take a  Free health assessment and discover a personalized path to a healthier, happier life. For more information, contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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