Amino acids are building blocks for proteins that are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in your body. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential because you need to consume them through food. The protein in your body plays a role in immunity, carries out chemical reactions, transmits signals, and provides structure and support to your cells. That being said, amino acid supplementation may be beneficial in youth athletes.
Protein Recommendations and Requirements
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein for men and women age 19 and older is 10-35% of total calories. For children aged 4 and over, it is 10-30%, and for children under age 4, the range is 5-20%. This equates to about 13 grams for 1- to 3-year-olds, around 19 grams for 4- to 8-year-olds and about 34 grams for 9- to 13-year-olds. Adolescent girls and boys require 46 and 52 grams, respectively.
The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein:
Men and women aged 19 and older: 10-35% of total calories.
Children age 4 and over: 10-30%.
Children under age 4: 5-20%.
This equates to about:
13 grams for 1- to 3-year-olds
19 grams for 4- to 8-year-olds
34 grams for 9- to 13-year-olds.
Adolescent girls and boys require 46 and 52 grams, respectively.
The World Health Organization recommendations for BCAA requirements are available for adults, infants, children 2 years of age, and children 10–12 y of age. The current recommended intake for total BCAA for school-age children is 99 mg/(kg · d). Childhood amino acid requirements are based on adult amino acid requirements plus that required for growth.
According to a nationally representative survey of American children and adolescents, about a third of children in the United States use dietary supplements. Supplements are defined as any ingredient – vitamin, mineral, herb, botanical, amino acid, concentrate, etc., – intended to provide nutritional value. These supplements can come in various forms including pills, gummies, powders, and liquids. Some dietary supplements, such as calcium, vitamin D, and iron, may be recommended when an athlete’s nutrient status is found to be low.
Regarding all supplements, the recommendation is that youth athletes meet their energy and nutrient needs through their diet first. Only consider supplements if they are falling short. As such, BCAA supplementation may be beneficial if an athlete is not able to meet requirements through diet. It is always best to consult your health care professional with specific questions about your young athlete before beginning this or any other nutritional supplementation program.
Additionally, athletes should check that supplements are NSF Certified for Sport or are verified as safe by Aegis Shield. Doing so will prevent the accidental consumption of undocumented stimulants or additives that could negatively affect their health and their eligibility for sport at the collegiate and professional level.
If determined safe, effective, and needed, a dietary supplement can be beneficial for a young athlete. Focusing on obtaining a nutritionally adequate diet and adequate fluids should be the first step for enhancing recovery and performance. A doctor or dietitian can help determine if an athlete is meeting his or her energy and nutrient needs and determine if supplementation is appropriate. Amino acid supplements can be beneficial and safe for youth athletes.
FAO/WHO/UNU. (1985). Energy and protein requirements. Report of a joint FAO/WHO/UNU Expert Consultation. World Health Organization Technical Report Series no. 724 WHO, Geneva, Switzerland.
Farnsworth, N. (2019). Supplements and Youth Athletes. Available at: https://www.themichelicenter.com/supplements-and-youth-athletes/
Gracia-Marco, L., Bel-Serrat, S., Cuenca-Garcia, M., Gonzalez-Gross, M., Pedrero-Chamizo, R., Manios (2017) Amino acids intake and physical fitness among adolescents. Amino acids, 49(6), 1041–1052.
Institute of Medicine. (2002) Dietary Recommended Intakes: Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
Mager, DR.; Wykes, LJ.; Ball, RO.; Pencharz, PB. (2003). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Requirements in School-Aged Children Determined by Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation (IAAO). The Journal of Nutrition, 133(11): 3540–3545.
Mangieri, H. (2017) Fueling Young Athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
National Institutes of Health. (2011) Dietary supplements: what you need to know. Available at: ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx.
National Institutes of Health. (2019) Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Web site. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/.
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