If you had met me about a year ago, I would tell you that you should eat a proper diet and that should be enough to provide all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. But as we may know, “organic” is not “organic” anymore. To increase the amount of food we are producing for our society, the agricultural practices are depleting all of the nutrients that go into the soil that we grow our fruits and vegetables. So having said that – the nutritional value of our fruits and vegetables are much less than they were 50 years ago. So this is the basis for the rest of this article and why nutritional supplements are especially important for young athletes (and for average individuals as well).
When I discuss with young elite athletes and their parents about adding a supplement to their diet to help them through their vigorous training, to encourage proper healing of acute/chronic injuries, and to allow for normal functional development – I often encounter the answer that they’re eating healthy and getting the proper amount of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, fat, and protein that they need. So they would rather hold off on the supplement since they’re getting all the proper nutrients in their diet. First off all, I think that it’s GREAT that they’re already eating healthy to try to get all the nutrients from their diet! They should keep it up for as much as they can! But I believe the misunderstanding comes from their perception of what a supplement is. Perhaps they believe that it’s going to replace fruits and veggies that they get from their normal diet – I’m not sure. But here’s the definition of what a supplement is:
A supplement is “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it”. A supplement doesn’t replace the nutrients that you get from food, but in fact “completes or enhances” the amount of vitamins and minerals that we need. So since the nutritional value of what we are growing in our foods today are much less than were years ago, a supplement supplies the body with what it’s missing from our diet.
An individual reaches full development at approximately 22 or 23 years old. On average, the most rapid amount of growth (skeletal, muscular, hormonal, mental, etc.) would be between the ages of 10-16 years old. Now for a young elite athlete between the ages where they have most rapid amount of development, the need for a supplements should be seriously considered. An average individual needs proper nutrients to grow, repair, and maintain normal development. But a young elite athlete also requires proper nutrients to develop normally but requires additional nutrients to maintain a high level of performance, to have the energy to go through vigorous training, and to heal quickly from injuries/tissue damage. This could be very “taxing” on an athlete’s body. An elite athlete may not reach their optimal peak performance, may get (re-) injured, or may acquire future health complications due to majority of their nutrients being directed towards training and energy consumption.
Here’s an example I’d like to use:
Imagine a finely tuned, high performance, exotic Lamborghini Aventador. Everything is 100% finely tuned to run fast and efficiently. So what type of fuel would you use? There’s probably no way that you’ll be putting in a low octane fuel in there because we all know that if you put in sub-optimal fuel, your Lambo isn’t going to be running at 100% and there might be some car issues along the way. You’ve got to put in some high octane fuel so that your Lamborghini can run optimally and as close to 100% as possible!
Our bodies are very similar to a high performance car. What we put into our bodies affects how our bodies function. That’s also the case for a young elite athlete. While we may be providing the best foods and nutrition for them – the foods that we are eating today are still sub-optimal and they’re missing a portion of the vitamins and minerals in them. A supplement will provide additional vitamins and minerals that will be crucial in energy production, bone and muscle development, neurological development, decreasing inflammation in an injury and encourage proper healing. This will allow for a young elite athlete to continue performing at a high level, while maintaining a level of nutrition to be directed towards normal development through the ages of the most rapid growth.
Coming up in a few weeks, there will be an article on supplements and how they may benefit your health!