How to fuel young athletes for high-intensity workouts


CHICAGO — They train for hours a day, but are active kids and teens consuming enough calories to keep up? For one local athlete, it didn’t take much to shake up her daily workout routine and land her in the hospital. 

Viviana Neuses tumbles, lifts weights and is a competitive cheer team member. Her father Lance Neuses says she’s a very active, fit kid.

Earlier this summer, the busy 17-year-old added swimming to her schedule — training for her lifeguard certification. That’s when she felt herself sinking.

“I was kind of tired, but almost dizzy tired, a little light-headed,” she said.

At practice, she said her legs started shaking and she could tell something was off.

In a matter of minutes, the teen’s whole body began to shake, and she was taken to the hospital. The mysterious symptom stumped her father — a veteran paramedic.

The diagnosis was rhabdomyolysis — a rare but serious result of extreme physical exercise. As muscle breaks down, it releases proteins into the bloodstream that are harmful to the kidneys. If not treated quickly, patients may experience renal failure. Fluids help flush away the damaging proteins.

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“In less than 16 hours she received five liters of fluid through an IV, which is a lot,” the teen’s father said.

Monique Rryan is a certified specialist in sports dietetics. She helps young athletes craft proper meal plans to support daily activities, growth and development needs and what they burn during intense workouts. 

“They may workout 90 minutes or two hours,” Ryan said. “Some kids have two workouts a day and they may burn 500 to 1,000 calories a day in a workout.”

All the activity adds up, and so should the proper calorie count.

“A lot of these kids need to have three good meals but also one or two snacks everyday,” Ryan said.

“I had picked up more activities and I was still eating the same, so it made sense that I’m going to need more calories when I’m doing more,” Viviana Neuses said.

The already healthy eater now packs extra daily snacks and she’s drinking plenty of water as she gets back to regular workouts.

“I think athletes underestimate how much caloric burn they have throughout the course of a day the course of a week, and they underestimate how much they actually are eating,” Marcus Thimios, a personal trainer, said.

Thimios says it’s a common oversight. Parents and athletes should look for red flags – a plateau or loss in strength, low energy levels and mood swings.

“I always recommend athletes if they ever have questions to work with a nutritionist or registered dietician in order so they get proper accurate information because unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Thimios said.

“Your hydration and calorie intake is really important for what you are doing and really be conscious of what you’re eating and how you are eating and what you are drinking.”

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