How Many Calories Do Youth Athletes Need?

How Many Calories Do Youth Athletes Need?

If you ask most people, they’ll know the recommended number of calories that an adult should be eating each day is 2000 for women and 2500 for men. But how much food a child or teen needs is not quite as clear, especially so for those participating in daily sports and exercise.

We've taken a closer look into calories to better understand how much food is actually needed to fuel a young athlete.

What are calories?

We’ve all heard people talking about calories and how many they should be consuming each day, but what exactly is a calorie? To put it simply, calories are a measure of the amount of energy contained within a food. The higher the calorie content, the more energy it contains. Calories are also a measure of the energy used for movement and other bodily processes.

Therefore, calories can either be consumed or expended. They often get a lot of bad press, as people generally refer to them in the context of counting calories to lose weight. But calories and energy are essential to young athletes for growth and development, health, performance and recovery.

How many calories do young athletes need?

Rapid growth and development during childhood and adolescence requires high energy demands to support this. The exact number of calories a young athlete needs to eat will vary from athlete to athlete, depending on a number of factors such as their gender, age, weight, and activity level.

The key to maintaining good health and ultimately winning performances is getting the balance right [1]. This means matching how many calories a youth athlete consumes from their food, compared to how many they expend during sports, as well as those needed for normal functioning and growth of the body. Estimations of recommended calories intakes are listed below.

 

Males 

Females

Age

Kcal/day

Kcal/day

4

1386

1291

5

1482

1362

6

1577

1482

7

1649

1530

8

1745

1625

9

1840

1721

10

2032

1936

11

2127

2032

12

2247

2103

13

2414

2223

14

2629

2342

15

2820

2390

16

2964

2414

17

3083

2462

18

3155

2462

 Source: SACN (2011) [2]

Although these recommendations set a good baseline for how many calories children and teens should be consuming [2], the actual requirements may vary depending on sporting schedule, intensity or training load and so how much food a youth athlete needs will vary accordingly.

Eating too much or too little

Balancing calorie intake with calorie expenditure is key to preventing excess or deficits within the diet [1]. While consuming more calories than what is burned by the body will lead to weight gain, consuming too few can result in negative consequences to performance and recovery, but more importantly, will have adverse effects on health.

Energy deficits during childhood and adolescence are associated with poor growth and development, delayed puberty, menstrual dysfunction, fatigue, illness and injury.

Which foods are best to eat?

Eating a balanced and varied diet is essential to good health, and young athletes should aim to consume 3 meals and 2 snacks each day to ensure they’re eating enough. These should contain all of the macronutrients needed by the body, as well as being rich in micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Young athletes should centre their diets around a variety of carbohydrate sources to fuel their exercise demands [1].

Protein is essential for nearly every process in the body, as well as for muscle building, repair and recovery. Requirements are likely to be slightly higher in youth athletes, compared to less active children of the same age [1].

Fat is essential as an energy source for low-intensity activity and movement, as well as for the transport and absorption of many vitamins [1]. Preference should be given to unsaturated forms.

For more information on fuelling young athletes, take a look at our articles on carbohydrates, protein & fat.

 

References

  1. Purcell, L. (2013) Sport nutrition for young athletes. Paediatrics & Child Health, 18(4), pp. 200-202.
  2. SACN (2011) Dietary Reference Values for Energy. [Online]. GOV.UK. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/339317/SACN_Dietary_Reference_Values_for_Energy.pdf. (Accessed: 13 February 2020).

 

Youth Sport Nutrition developed PRO-TEEN as a convenient way for youths in sport get all the right calories in, when good quality whole foods aren’t available. Made up of a precise mix of vitamins and nutrients, PRO-TEEN provides a wholesome blend of protein, fats, carbs and 16 essential micronutrients to help get all of the right goodness in, at the right time.

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1 comment

  • NAtalie

    Looking at the calories for teenagers, why is it that for 14 year old girls, it is 1000 less than boys? Or is this a typing error and instead of 1342, it should actually read 2342? It’s just I have a 14 yr old who is very athletic and I wouldn’t want her to look at this and think she is eating way too much and start worrying about her calorie intake etc.

    Thanks
    Natalie


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