Your young athlete works hard on the field, at practice, in training, and at school—which means their bodies need proper nutrients and fuel to keep up. But with so much going on, it can be hard to prioritize a healthy nutrition plan and that can sometimes lead to certain nutrient deficiencies. Here, we're looking at a few of the most common nutrient deficiencies in teens.
Before we dive in, though, it's important to note that generally, these deficiencies can be fixed with real, whole foods versus supplements. If you believe your athlete needs a supplement, it's a good idea to check with your family doctor, get screened for deficiencies, and determine the best course of action before adding supplements. Remember: Food first whenever possible!
Teens, especially those who are opting to eat less meat—or who truly hate their dark leafy greens—while still training at a high level, may find that they're deficient in iron. This is a problem worldwide, researchers have found. In 2016, researchers noted that for preteens and teens aged 10 to 14, iron deficiency is the leading cause of "ill health." And overall, females face more health issues due to iron deficiency, which is often tied to iron loss during menstruation.
According to the American Society of Hematology, iron deficiency (also referred to as anemia) can lead to fatigue, headaches, unexplained weakness, rapid heartbeat, and brittle nails or hair loss.
Iron levels can be raised by adding iron-rich foods into an athlete's diet. The Mayo Clinic lists the obvious red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood as the easiest ways to get iron, but your teen could also add beans, dark leafy greens, and even dried fruit and iron-fortified cereals into their diet.
Since most young athletes get their vitamin D largely from sunlight, it's common to see deficiencies in teens—one study found nearly a quarter of teens surveyed were severely deficient. Wintertime for outdoor athletes, and anytime for indoor-sport athletes who spend most of their sunny hours inside for school and practice, means less vitamin D from the sun. However, food can also help supplement vitamin D for adolescents, who need around 600 IUs per day.
Vitamin D deficiency can be hard for an athlete, since symptoms include fatigue and weakness in addition to bone pain and even depression, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
To boost vitamin D through food, think dairy products, eggs, and seafood. The easiest way to hit your daily dose? A single tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 1360 IUs of vitamin D.