Australia’s leading body of sports dietitians has developed a world-first set of dietary recommendations to help active adolescent athletes, who compete and train on a regular basis, achieve optimal health and sporting success.

The new position statement, released by Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) in conjunction with Griffith University, provides advice on all aspects of an adolescent’s diet, including:

  • energy intake;
  • carbohydrate, protein and fat needs;
  • fluid requirements, and
  • specific nutrients of importance, such as iron, calcium and vitamin D.

The recommendations also warn against the use of performance-enhancing dietary supplements by active adolescent athletes as unnecessary and potentially hazardous to their health.

SDA sports dietitian and researcher Associate Professor Ben Desbrow from the Griffith Health Institute says the guidelines were developed to help increase awareness among adolescent athletes about the benefits of following a nutritionally balanced diet prepared by an accredited sports dietitian.

“Adolescent athletes have unique nutritional needs as a consequence of their daily training and competition, coupled with the added demands of their growth and development,’’ Associate Professor Desbrow said.

A difficult time for adolescents

“It can be a difficult time for adolescents as they manage the many changes their bodies are going through. In terms of nutrition, adolescence is an important time to establish an individual’s lifelong relationship with food, which is particularly important in terms of the connection between diet, exercise and body image.

“It can be tempting for them to adopt abnormal eating behaviours or find a quick fix solution via supplements such as protein powders to help catch up to their school friends and team mates.’’

Associate Professor Desbrow says an accredited sports dietitian can help young athletes manage these changes without the need for supplements.

Aside from possible safety issues and potential violation of the World Anti-Doping Code, the use of performance-enhancing dietary supplements by developing athletes can over-emphasise their ability to manipulate performance, he says.

“Dietary supplements contribute to an unhealthy ‘win at all costs’ mentality in athletes of all ages,’’ he said.

“Junior athletes have the potential for greater performance enhancement through maturation and experience in their sport, along with adherence to proper training, nutrition and rest regimes.”

SDA’s independent review of existing evidence by an 11 expert panel was recently published on-line in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

SDA president Alan McCubbin says there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the dietary needs of adolescent athletes.

“Every athlete’s needs are different — for instance the energy intake required by an AFL player will vary greatly compared with a ballerina or someone in athletics,’’ Mr McCubbin said.