Athletes and calciumSports have long held a positive influence in children’s lives by teaching them the value of sportsmanship, teamwork and dedication.  Organized sports are often thought of to be healthy, both physically as well psychologically. However, without proper nutrition young athletes may not develop into their full potential both on and off the field.

Regardless of the athleticism and potential, children are not mini-adults so nutrition is critical to growth and development. Compared to adults the bones of children are not fully developed and vulnerable to damage from excessive use or high impact.

Bone health throughout your lifespan relies to some extent on calcium intake and physical activity during childhood. For better bone health, children and adults need three daily servings of low-fat milk, cheese or yogurt to receive nine essential vitamins and minerals.

Poor vitamin D intake also contributes to bone-related problems for children and adults. Research from the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine links vitamin D to protecting highly active pre-teen girls from stress fractures. After review of calcium and vitamin D intake over seven years, they found that girls with the highest consumption of vitamin D had a 50% lower risk of a stress fracture.

There are many important nutrients to consider in bone health such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A and K along with calcium and vitamin D.  Low fat dairy products provide an array of bone building nutrients. Parents set the foundation for adequate intake of calcium by encouraging the consumption of dairy products from a young age. Here are simple ways to add dairy to your adolescent’s diet.

  • Offer low-fat milk with meals.
  • Offer yogurt smoothies as a snack after practice.
  • Pack fruit slices and string cheese as snacks in between games.
  • Provide low-fat chocolate milk to refuel with instead of sports drinks.

Rebecca A. Turner, MS, RD, LD