5 Nutrition Tips for Teen Athletes: Eat Well to Play Well

As teens are back in school, many are also back in football, soccer or cross-country practices. If you have a teen athlete, their extra physical activity means an increased need for the right nutrition.

Katie Horstmeyer, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian who works with Memorial SportsCare, said the right nutrition makes a noticeable difference in a teen’s performance during practice and competition. To play well, teens need to eat well by making the right food choices. Horstmeyer outlines a few of her favorite nutrition tips for teen athletes and their parents.

  1. Choose more natural foods. Look for packages labeled as whole grain like brown rice, whole wheat bread, pasta and oats. Include more non-starchy vegetables such as salad greens, broccoli or beans and lean protein like turkey, chicken or lean cuts of beef.
  2. Pay attention to averages. While an average mile time is important in cross country, so too is the average calorie count. Generally, an active 16-year-old female needs about 2,000 – 2,300 calories per day while an active 16-year-old male needs up to 3,000 calories per day. Approximately 55 percent to 60 percent of calories should come from carbohydrates, 15 percent to 20 percent from protein and 20 percent to 30 percent from fat.
  3. Pick the right snacks. To maintain a high energy level, teens should eat a snack 30 to 60 minutes before every practice or game. Fresh fruit or granola bars make great snacks and travel well inside a sports bag.
  4. Take a multivitamin. Most teens don’t eat a variety of whole-grain foods with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein every day. In that case, a multivitamin can be helpful for your teen to make sure he or she is getting enough of the vitamins and minerals they need to play at their best.
  5. Stay hydrated. If practice is less than 60 minutes, water is enough. Horstmeyer recommends 4 to 6 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during practice or a game. For any activity longer than 60 minutes, an electrolyte replacement fluid like a sports drink is needed. Another recommended post-practice option is chocolate milk.

Blowing a diet for one day will not ruin a teen’s sports career. But as Horstmeyer points out, “If an active teen regularly blows their diet by eating a lot of unhealthy food high in fats, they will feel sluggish, tired and just won’t play as well as they could in their sport.”

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