To sustain their high energy levels, teenage athletes can require up to three times as many calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat as non-athletes. However, without a nutrition degree, it's hard to determine your body's exact needs. Many factors come into play, including the length and intensity of your workouts, practices and participation in your sport. (See 6 Simple Nutrition Rules for Athletes.)
Just as having a strategy contributes to success on the field, having a diet plan contributes to healthy eating. (Read Building a Balanced Meal.)
Creating a healthy food plan is relatively easy when you know the drill. So grab a piece of paper and let's get started! Here's an exercise in how to customize a healthy diet and eating plan.
Step 1: List your favorite foods
List them in the following categories:
- Protein/calcium-rich foods
- Fruits & vegetables
- Carbohydrates & whole grains
Next, mix and match items from each category to come up with your favorite meal/snack combinations. This makes it easy to achieve the goal of nutrient balance. For example:
- Turkey, milk (protein) + baby carrots, apple (fruit & veggie) + potato chips, whole grain bread (carbs), or
- Chicken, mozzarella (protein) + tomato sauce, grapes (fruit & veggie) +x dinner roll, whole wheat pasta (carbs)
Step 2: Create balanced meals
Select two or three servings per day of protein sources, two or four servings of fruits & vegetables and two to four servings of carb sources.
Vegetables: although the recommended daily amount is two cups, I don't limit them, because the dietary fiber in vegetables fills you up and makes it hard to overeat.
Fruit: two to four daily servings are recommended, and fruit is great for between-meal snacks.
Fat: choose healthy sources like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds to add to a meal or snack.
- Two eggs and half to one-ounce of 2% cheddar cheese
- Half-cup broccoli, one orange
- Whole-grain toast
Step 3. Seek out a registered dietitian
For more personalized support and a diet plan tailored to your individual needs and lifestyle, find a dietitian in your area at eatright.org. Use nutrition tracking tools like figurefacts.com to assist you in making sure you are meeting your basic nutritional needs and adjusting your intake appropriately for your activity level, both in-season and off-season. Many athletes find that their weight goes up in the off-season, since they may not have reduced their energy or caloric intake to compensate for their reduction in activity. (Track Your Nutrition With the Food Plate.)
Here's to your health!
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