Youth Athletes and Protein: How Much Do They Need and How Can You Tell They Are Getting Enough?

proteinProtein. We all need it in our diets but are your active kids getting enough? It’s crucial that any child get enough protein, but especially so for a youth gymnast or other athlete. Protein aids muscle recovery when consumed after exercise and should account for 10% to 15% of calories that, according to pediatricians, active kids consume daily.

Being more specific, The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily allowance of:

•34 grams for 7-13-year-old children

•46 grams for girls ages 14 to 18

•52 grams for boys ages 14 to 18

Many young gymnasts and youth athletes though, even the ones whose parents believe that they have a very healthy diet, are not eating enough protein and their bodies and overall health may suffer because of this. But how do you know if you really should be adding more protein-rich foods into your child’s everyday diet? You don’t need a special book or even your doctor to tell you, as often their bodies will.

Here are just some of the telltale signs that your active child should be eating more protein:

They Crave Sweets and Never Quite Feel Full

One of the first signs that a child’s body is lacking the protein it needs is that they never seem to feel full and that a craving for sweets – a serious craving – occurs at the end of most of the meals they eat.

You might think that a body short on protein would point a person towards steak and eggs rather than the cookie jar but one of the crucial functions of protein within the body is to help regulate blood sugar levels. If kids are lacking in it, their blood sugar levels are likely to become completely erratic, especially after eating a meal, and the sweets craving is an attempt to get a quick energy fix.

Their Thinking is Cloudy

When a child’s blood sugar levels are up and down their concentration and ability to focus is often seriously compromised, leaving them feeling foggy and a bit out of it. This is because protein is essential for energy regulation as well, meaning that a snack might give them a brief up but without a regular intake of protein to stabilize things the fog is likely to almost become the norm.

Their Hair and Nails are a Mess

Not in the sense that they could use a visit to the salon, but in that their hair is thin and brittle – no matter how many expensive products you slather onto it to try to improve it and their nails are prone to easy splits and cracks too.

Many people fail to realize that both hair and nails are made up almost completely of protein. When a body is short on the stuff it will, in an attempt to do the best it can with the limited resources it is being given to work with, divert protein away from non-essential systems like hair and nails in order to keep more vital functions going.

Where to Get More Protein

As there is a lot of conflicting information out there about what you should and should not be feeding your children, in general, it can be rather hard to figure out just how best to add extra protein to their diet. Dairy is a good source, but didn’t you hear that they should be eating less of that? And red meat come to that matter, another good source of protein, isn’t that supposed to be bad for them as well?

Well no, LEAN red meat and low-fat dairy are both still great sources of protein, especially for kids, but so are legumes, quinoa, eggs, edamame and nuts, so even a vegetarian can boost their protein intake rather easily and still enjoy what they eat.

Youth Athletes and Protein Supplements

What those protein supplements that adult athletes are consuming in huge quantities? Nothing is wrong with supplementing a balanced diet with the occasional smoothie that includes a scoop of protein powder. The danger arises when someone, especially a growing youth, uses these powders instead of eating enough whole foods.

Additional risks emerge when a kid consumes large volumes of these processed powders. Many are loaded with sugar and unhealthful ingredients such as artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, untested herbs, antibiotics, and heavy metals. Many are not even regulated by the FDA.

Both Consumer Reports and have conducted independent tests uncovering that many brands contain toxic chemicals and other undisclosed ingredients, while other brands were found guilty of exaggerating the amount of nutrients they supply. So, for a growing athlete they really are best avoided, and if they do need to up their protein intake it should come from their food instead.

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