The Three Micronutrients All Young Female Athletes Need...
When it comes to nutrition for young athletes & adolescents (really anyone in general) people always think solely about macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) and total calories. There is not thought given to the micronutrients, and in turn, the “nutrient density” of the foods consumed, which can be dangerous, especially for the young female athletes out there
Within this demographic, specifically given their age, the body is still growing and undergoing physiological and normal changes. Meaning that an adequate amount of all nutrients are key to ensure these processes are performed to the best of their ability
And yet, within this demographic, we see foods being limited and “banned” due to their contents, when we’re missing the bigger picture and the amazing micronutrients these foods contain that are required by the body
When it comes to young female athletes, there are three micronutrients that are key. Particular attention should be devoted to ensuring young female athletes consume adequate amounts of iron, calcium, and vitamin D
This nutrient is incredibly important for oxygen delivery to the bodies tissues, red blood cell production, regulation of our immune system, and enzyme function for energy production. Girls require more than boys due to their natural losses during their menstruation cycle. Yet, more iron is also required during this life stage to support growth and the increases seen in both blood volume and muscle mass. Girls aged between 9-18 should be consuming between 8mg-15mg of Iron every day
Young athletes who adopt a vegetarian eating style are often predisposed to lower iron consumption, whilst others lose iron through sweat, urine, and menstruation. It is recommended therefore, that those who are vegetarian and/or long distance runners should be screened for their current iron levels. Iron-rich foods include eggs, leafy green vegetables, fortified whole grains and lean meat.
Required for bone health, normal enzyme activity, and muscle contractions, calcium rich foods include dairy products, broccoli, spinach, and fortified whole-grain sources. Low intakes of calcium can place young athletes at a higher risk of suffering fractures, and may also slow bone development and growth.
It is recommended that 1,000- to 1,300mg/day is consumed for proper growth & development
Vitamin D plays a role with Calcium in bone development, as it is involved in the regulation and absorption of calcium within the body. It is therefore important to not focus solely on the single nutrient, as both are required
Our sources of Vitamin D include the sun and fortified sources of milk & other dairy products. Young athletes who predominantly train indoors, are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin D due to their lack of sun exposure - however, this is often only the case for those living in the Northern Hemisphere
Young female athletes need to be mindful of micronutrients, as well as macronutrients, especially in a world where we are "limiting" food choices. The focus and onus needs to be placed on fuelling the body, and choosing foods with the goal of proper growth, development, and long-term well-being
If you're unsure of how your current intake of these micronutrients is, contact your local dietitian, or visit your GP to have some baseline tests conducted :)