Being the parent of a young athlete is a challenge – from the cost of the latest training gear to the endless drives to events all over the country.  Richard Mullins looks beyond the logistics and into the practical supports parents (or coaches) can apply to their athletes

Over the last few months, two incidents have arisen that have made me think about those of a young age engaged in not just athletics but sport of any kind. This is an area that receives little lifestyle and training information in comparison with the amount we are inundated with regarding adult athletes.

Glancing over a copy of Irish Runner this past summer I was reading about Ciara Mageens intense training and lifestyle. She has her athletics, school, and daily commute and plays camogie as well (putting many of us to shame!) Balancing the physical demands of that would challenge even the best prepared adult athlete.  This was reinforced to me only last week when I was going through indoor cycling routines with teenage rowers who take their sport quite seriously. Unlike Ciara, who has a world class support system in place thanks to the organisation of her coach, parents and her own efforts, these kids were largely left to themselves. It does beg the question should parents of kids involved in athletics – or even multiple sports – have to take charge of putting a support system in place for their children? Having a proper set of supports in place without being too restrictive will help your child in their sport and health and clear some of that teenage chaos!.

Did you know that younger kids expand a quarter more energy doing the same activities as you or I?  And all those rapidly growing muscles need more protein as a percentage of food intake than typical adults. That said supplements are really not necessary; 1gm per 1lb of bodyweight will suffice for the younger athlete.  A nice plentiful supply of complex carbohydrates will ensure enough glycogen to support their active lifestyles and energy burn.

Author Anita Bean in her book the[amazon_link id=”1592282903″ target=”_blank” ] Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition[/amazon_link] adds some good general guidelines in relation to the teenage athlete.  For example make sure they get in a good source of calories as soon as possible after they finish training. If it means them eating in the car on the commute home, then so be it! A high GI carbohydrate snack with a little protein always goes down well (chocolate milk anyone?!) Encourage them to drink to thirst. A smaller bodymass means they are open to dehydration and overheating much more quickly than we are. And drink when thirsty and eat when hungry – our body’s natural cues are there for a reason.

Also of importance is to recognise that some kids in our sport are overweight. In athletics, body image can mean a lot but please seek professional advice regarding your child’s weight if you feel it is a problem. Teach by example and try to remember that teen girls grow until early twenties and males until early to mid twenties. Anita Bean emphasises not to use ‘fat’ to describe your child’s weight. Making reference to your child’s weight when they are so young can negatively influence their body perception, especially among females where there is an inner spotlight on thinness at an ever younger age.  If your child is struggling to keep up or maintain weight (as many active healthy kids may) more frequent meals and snacks consisting of calorie dense nutritious food should be encouraged (milk, nuts, nut butters, butter, oats, soda bread).

Two books that are a lifesaver for any active family are Anita Beans [amazon_link id=”1592282903″ target=”_blank” ]Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition[/amazon_link] as well as Marie Dunfords [amazon_link id=”073607631X” target=”_blank” ]Fundamentals of Exercise and Sports Nutrition[/amazon_link].

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