Whether your teenager is a multi-sport athlete, hoping for an athletic scholarship, or simply pumping iron in the basement, all teen athletes need proper nutritional support. Reaching optimal performance level is more than the old practice, practice, practice adage. It’s also about ensuring that teenage athletes’ bodies are performing at their peak. So what do teen athletes and their parents need to know in order to make this happen?
Nutrition for Teen Athletes
If you’re a teen athlete or a parent of one, here are some helpful tips:
Know the Needs
The nutritional needs of a teenage athlete (compared to a typical teenager) are fairly similar to those of adults. At around age 12 or 13, teenagers tend to have the same nutritional needs as grown-ups.
Because they are burning so much fuel, teen athletes need even more calories than typical teenagers – and typical adults. Recommendations may range from 3000-4000 calories per day for males and 2200-3000 calories per day for females.
Eat a healthy diet.
Sure, that seems like an obvious statement, but how many actually do it? Proper nutrition is important for all kids, of course, but it’s especially important for teen athletes who are enduring regular hours of intensive activity. And we all know about the many food temptations facing teenagers, athlete or not.
Teen athletes may gain the competitive edge they are seeking simply by meeting their own nutritional needs. The energy needed to endure sustained periods of physical activity such as those involved in practice and competitive sports are significantly higher than those of more typical teenage activities.
This means eating fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals, foods such as lean meats that are high in iron, healthy fats, enough protein, and the right amount of carbohydrates.
- Fats are a vital source of fuel for your body, and for moving substances in and out of cells. Just remember to eat healthy fats, such as avocado, nuts, or wild caught salmon.
- Unlike fats, carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for energy production, making them vital for athletes of all ages. For typical teens, it’s generally recommended that 25% of calories come from fats, 30% from protein and 45% from healthy carbs. For teen athletes, it may be recommended to lower the carbs by 5% and add it to the fat intake instead.
- Vegetables are nutrient dense, and the majority of them provide energy in the form of complex carbohydrates. Green leafy vegetables are high in phytonutrients as well as nitrates. Studies have found that nitrate intake from green leafy vegetables can enhance athletic performance.
- Protein is important because because helps to rebuild and repair muscles. It aids in moving oxygen to the muscles and making amino acids available to them during exercise.
- Teen athletes need slightly more protein than those who aren’t intensive athletes. Eating too little protein can result in muscles breaking down. Yet it’s important not to eat too much protein either, because if it isn’t needed then it’s difficult to digest and hard on the kidneys.
Eating right also means not filling up on the bad stuff! Avoid eating fried or greasy foods, which can make a teen athlete (or anyone for that matter) feel sluggish because the body has to work extra hard to break it down in digestion and in the liver. Cookies, cakes, chips and baked goods are not going to provide optimal fuel either.
Watch the clock.
The timing of food intake is an important aspect of optimal eating for teen athletes. The body uses carbohydrates as energy, so loading up on whole grains and healthy complex carbs a few days before an event can be helpful for your performance. Because protein muscles during and after exercise, it should be consumed after a sporting event, as long as there is adequate time to digest it before the event.
Long days of intense sports can mean lots of calories burned. Be sure to replenish some them with a light, nutrient-dense snack or meal once your event is over.
Make sure you are drinking water before, during and after intensive activity. Not only does it keep you hydrated and encourage elimination of toxins, drinking water can keep your body temperature from spiking during activity.
If you have a tendency to feel dehydrated during or after intensive activity, consider a drink that will help replace lost electrolytes, such as coconut water or enriched waters. There’s no need for over-dyed over-sweetened “sports drinks” when you can replenish lost electrolytes in a healthier way.
One simple way to know if you’re hydrated enough is to check the color of your urine. Pale yellow or clear is the goal because it means that you are well hydrated, while dark is a sign that you need to drink more.
Supplement with vitamins when necessary.
If you’ve visited this site before, you may already know that I work with NOW Foods@ as an ambassador for the brand. My family had been using their probiotic products consistently when I had the opportunity to visit their headquarters and see their manufacturing facility last year. Their incredible knowledge, attention to detail, and testing of products to ensure no impurities as so impressive to me that my family began to use all of their products regularly. It’s also why I feel confident in sharing their products with my readers.
A daily multivitamin is a great way to ensure that you’re getting what your body needs. For teens it’s vital to be consuming calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and iron (especially for girls). If your diet is lacking in these necessities, be sure to talk to your healthcare practitioner. By the way, the need for calcium does not end when your teen reaches his or her adult height. Bone mass continues to accumulate after a teenager reaches full height. If your teen (athlete or not) is not getting calcium in his or her diet, talk to your doctor about a calcium supplement.
It is often recommended kids should only use bodyweight exercises until after puberty. Yet for those teens who are bodybuilders, it’s important to note that weight lifting isn’t what builds muscle. The lifting puts stress on your muscles. Protein is what builds the muscle, so protein is vital for both muscle growth and repair. If your teen athlete needs to gain weight for a sport (such as football or wrestling), it should be done in a healthy way, rather than by inhaling French fries and ice cream. John Urban, Sports Brand Manager at NOW Foods@, suggests a complex carbohydrate supplement called Carbo Gain powder can be used in addition to protein to provide more calories that will help them gain quality weight.
On the other hand, he suggests that Electro Endurance products could be a great option for endurance athletes, such as swimmers or long distance runners who do not want to put weight on. It combines a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates, predigested whey protein and amino acids, and electrolytes to potentially optimize recovery time when taken after activity.
Individual amino acids like L-Glutamine may help to support athlete recovery and could potentially benefit any teenage athlete. Glutamine (which comes in powder or capsule form) is one of the major circulating amino acids in the body.
Steer clear of more specialized sports formulas (especially pre-workout formulas and those containing caffeine), John says, because their dosing and safety use are tested on fully grown adults. These formulas are generally not appropriate for use by teens.
Keep en eye on teens with special diets or dietary needs.
As a child progresses to a teenager and that teenager begins intensive athletics of many hours per week, there’s an increasing needs for calorie intake and essential nutrients. Keep an extra eye on teen athletes who are on special diets. Vegetarian and vegan diets, for example, may restrict B12 and Omega-3 proteins which come from animals.
NOW Foods@, says that vegetarians and vegans also want pay extra attention to their iron intake. The increasing blood supply of teenage athletes needs more iron, so the dietary recommendation jumps. Girls especially need to replace iron lost during their menstrual cycle. While iron is found in meat, poultry and seafood, it also comes from legumes, some vegetables, and fortified grains. Legumes such as peanuts, green beans, chick peas, peas, black beans and foods such as peanut butter or hummus help provide iron that are essential for teenagers, especially girls.Senior Nutrition Education Manager at
Regarding vegans and vegetarians, Neil also reminds us that quality protein is quality protein, whether it’s plant or animal-based protein. As long as your teen is getting vitamins and minerals, as well as enough protein, from his or her plant-based diet, there’s generally no need for concern. However, you can and should speak with a healthcare practitioner about supplementation (such as vegan pea protein) of these essentials if you feel that there really is cause for concern.
Get enough rest.
We all know that sleep is important, but it’s especially important to teen athletes whose bodies working on overdrive – and still growing. A study out of Stanford University found that extra sleep over an extended period resulted in improved athletic performance, along with mood and alertness. Conversely, a lack of adequate sleep can result in sluggishness and irritability that often leads to overeating of junk food.
A lack of sleep is also associated with more common illnesses, which could easily keep your kid off the field. What’s more, inadequate sleep is linked to lower grades, which could affect your teen athletes’ ability to remain on the team at all.
The Bottom Line for Teen Athletes
Teenage athletes have to watch their nutrient intake and make sure they are getting foods that will help them perform at optimal levels rather than send them into a slump. All teen athletes need to fuel their bodies with enough sleep, healthy foods, supplements when needed, and proper hydration before, during and after their sporting events.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
10 Foods that Reduce Post Workout Muscle Recovery Time
Not a Polar Bear? 8 Reasons Why You Should Take Cold Showers Anyway
Can a 1 Minute Workout Really Make an Impact?
5 Ways to Stay Safe When Running Alone
Why You Need a Probiotic, Even if You Don’t Have Stomach Issues
Only Have 15 Minutes? Then Try the Metabolic Aftershock Workout
10 Marathon Training Tips from a Running Coach
What You Need to Know about GMO’s
7 Amazing Books for Young Athletes
Try these Tips for Boosting Your Workout Performance
What You Need to Know About Food Cravings & How to Stop Them for Good
25 Spinach & Kale Recipes You Won’t Even Realize are Healthy
How Healthy People Begin Their Day
10 Reasons to Give Tweens & Teens Eco-Friendly Personal Hygiene Products
What Researchers Just Discovered About the Effects of Sugar on the Body
Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I am a #NOWWellness Influencer, and as such, NOW Foods® is a sponsor of EatSleepBe. Again, the information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any ailments or disease. Please consult your medical practitioner before making any changes to your wellness routine.