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The 5 Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Youth Athletes

10/27/2014, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

Are you fuelling your child for optimal performance?


Our bodies are all about energy in, energy out. 

Scoring a goal, making a save or breaking up a 2on1 comes a lot more naturally with enhanced nutrition and an appropriate off-ice fitness regime

That being said, there’s a lot more that goes into an in-season nutrition plan than just eating chicken dinners and going to bed on time. 

This is the 5th post in the North Shore Winter Club Guide to In-Season Training, Nutrition & Wellness. Start at the beginning.

The vitamins and nutrients a youth athlete ingests can have a big impact on their game in addition to healthy diet choices. Unfortunately, there are a few nutrients that are neglected or flat-out ignored. 

1. Carbohydrates

According to the Human Sciences Division at Iowa State Univerisity, “after carbohydrate is eaten, it is broken down into smaller units of sugar (including glucose, fructose and galactose) in the stomach and small intestine.” These smaller units are then transferred via the bloodstream to tissues ad muscles and used to power an athlete’s performance. 

Insufficient carbohydrate intake can immediately compromise an hockey player’s ability to perform. Inadequate glycogen results in premature fatigue and forces the body to search for an alternative fuel source: muscle. When glucose isn’t available, the body will use protein from the muscles to keep going.

2. Calcium

Muscle power and strength is an easy one. We all know that a hockey player will shoot the puck harder if he’s stronger. 

There’s more than one way to build strength, though. Thick, dense bones add a much-needed foundation to muscle performance. If carbohydrates power the body’s energy stores, calcium is the gasoline required for bone growth and bone mass.

Calcium also aids in nerve impulses and muscles contractions. Everything in the body is connected to the skeleton at some point. With calcium-rich bones, a young hockey player’s limbs are able to respond better to muscle contractions, which will lead to improved long term health of both systems. 

The risk of low calcium intake? Injuries. Insufficient calcium leads to decreased bone mass, which increases the risk of fractures, breaks and other bone injuries such as bruising. 

3 & 4. Vitamin B6 & Folate

If the structure of the body is in good health, then it stands to reason that the nutrients moving around inside the body are keeping up their end of the bargain. Enter Vitamin B6 and Folate, two nutrients that are easy to neglect in young athletes. Vitamin B6 and Folate are components of energy metabolism and blood health. 

Like the oil in a car, these nutrients lower the heart’s work load by: 

  • metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and proteins
  • assisting with tissue formation
  • forming red blood cells

Here are some of each nutrient’s best sources, from the Harvard School of Public Health. 

Sources of Folate: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, breakfast cereals, and fortified grains and grain products. 

Sources of Vitamin B6: Good sources of vitamin B6 include fortified cereals, beans, poultry, fish, and some vegetables and fruits, especially dark leafy greens, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe.

It's Easy! Stick to a Balanced Diet

Healthy eating and proper nutrition will keep these levels topped up in a young athlete for the most part, but it’s important for parents to recognize the function of these nutrients, so they aren’t left behind for the sake of a quick meal on a regular basis. 

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