How to Feed a Teen Athlete, in Under 600 Words

Fueling an adolescent athlete can feel like a tall task. Here are the basics.

Fueling an adolescent athlete can feel like a tall task.

Here are the basics in under 600 words. 

There is no "special diet plan" to achieve optimal athletic performance. Eat three high-quality meals plus two or three snacks daily for better performance, increased strength, fewer injuries and more wins. Don't skip meals.

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Fueling an adolescent athlete can feel like a tall task.

Here are the basics in under 600 words. 

There is no "special diet plan" to achieve optimal athletic performance. Eat three high-quality meals plus two or three snacks daily for better performance, increased strength, fewer injuries and more wins. Don't skip meals.

A great resource on building a high-performance plate can be viewed here.

The greater duration, intensity and training volume of a sport, the greater requirement of carbohydrates and calories to sufficiently support energy levels. This pertains to sports like ice hockey, field hockey, basketball, swimming, soccer and long-distance running.

Teen athletes must make a conscious effort to consume snacks containing protein and carbohydrates between meals. For example, fruit with string cheese. For snack ideas to fuel your teen athlete, check out this article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Water is vital to peak performance. A rule of thumb I encourage is 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. Invest in a good water bottle for your teen athlete to keep on hand.

Breakfast is non-negotiable. Teens need adequate nutrition to support proper growth and development. Research has indicated nutrients and calories missed at breakfast by teens are unlikely to be made up for later in the day. Great grab-and-go breakfasts include hard boiled-egg and fruit, string cheese and banana, yogurt parfait and whole-grain granola, and berries and oatmeal.

A bedtime snack containing 15-20 grams of protein and approximately 30 grams of carbohydrates will support restful sleep and help build lean muscle tissue during the night. This is especially true during periods of intense training (Trommelen & VanLoon, 2016). Cottage cheese, milk and yogurt are rich in slow-digesting protein. Pair an 8 oz. serving of cottage cheese with sliced bananas for a high-protein, high-magnesium bedtime snack. Magnesium helps relax muscles and lowers brain temperature to regulate hormones.

Caffeine has no place in an adolescent's diet. A 2018 report found that over 40% of American teens surveyed had consumed an energy drink within the past three months. Several emergency visits have occurred due to energy drink consumption among teens between the ages of 12-17. The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded energy drinks are "not appropriate for children and adolescents, and should never be consumed." Caffeine can negatively impact sleep, anxiety and appetite.

Calcium is critical for proper bone growth, development and overall health. Research has found American girls do not get adequate calcium in their diet after age 11. This deficiency increases risk of injuries like stress fractures.

Calcium can only reach its full bone-growth potential in the presence of adequate vitamin D. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium. Recommendations for calcium and vitamin D vary. A great way to attain adequate calcium and vitamin D is to consume dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, milk and fortified beverages. A yogurt parfait with mixed berries can be a great pre-exercise snack.

A teen athlete must eat many colorful fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies contain quality nutrients needed for optimal growth and development. The more you eat, the better your gut health and immune function likely will be.

Meat, fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains should be staple foods to help your teen recover from tough practices and workouts. These foods tend to be high in zinc, which supports growth and aids in wound-healing, plus healthy fats.

Your adolescent should be consistently consuming balanced meals with snacks in between before you consider supplements. Supplements are meant to satisfy small gaps in nutrition, not make up for a bad diet. Good nutritional habits must be established first.

Nutrition is a secret weapon! It can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good, the choice is up to you!

In good health,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN

*This article was authored by Wendi Irlbeck and originally appeared on nutritionwithwendi.com

Photo Credit: karelnoppe/iStock


Topics: NUTRITION | PERFORMANCE NUTRITION | TEENS | SPORTS NUTRITION | YOUTH SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | GOOD NUTRITION