Nutrition for Young Athletes

Young Athletes Need a Diet Rich in Omega-3s and Antioxidants

My friend, Dr. Michael Lewis, Director of the Brain-Health Education and Research Institute, recently publicized what we Little League coaches and parents have long known – heavy training and sports competitions can stress the immune system. Dr. Lewis made the point that athletes tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fats in their bloodstream because their bodies use them more quickly than non-athletes. To maintain good immune strength, young athletes need to “go fish!” I tell my Special Olympics team: “Eat at least three fistfuls of wild salmon at least three times a week, and if you don’t ‘go fish!’ and take 1,000 milligrams a day of a DHA/EPA omega-3 fish oil supplement.

To test the omega-3s in athletes, researchers in Germany measured their blood levels of omega-3 fats using the new omega-3 index, a measure of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells. In the pilot study published in International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2014, only one of the 1,006 German athletes studied had the optimal blood level of omega-3s.

Also, because athletics stress young and growing muscles – called oxidative stress – young athletes need more antioxidants in their diet. My favorite athletic coach, Dr. Mom, said: “Put more color on your plate.” Double that during sports season. Remember the two S’s: “A shake and a salad a day help keep muscle soreness away.” For our young athlete, Stephen, the home-run hitter on his Special Olympics team, I double up on his multi-fruit and multi-vegetable morning shake with a scoop of protein powder (we use Juice Plus+ Complete). He also downs a six-ounce fillet of salmon the night before his game.

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