Most teen athletes will agree it is important to include a vigorous physical training regimen as part of their efforts to reach premiere levels of athletic performance. Weightlifting and cardiovascular conditioning are a mere afterthought to the dedicated athletic teenager. An area often times ignored, but equally vital to the overall well-being of young sports performers as those methods of physical conditioning just mentioned, is the importance of following a proper nutrition regimen.
U.S. dietary guidelines suggest a daily intake of 2,400 calories for teen girls 14-18 years of age. For boys of the same age group, a daily intake of approximately 3,000 calories is recommended. Interestingly both of these figures are about 500 calories above the recommended rate for adult men and women. Add the additional calorie burning by the average teen athlete during training, practices and games and the importance of sensible eating increases.
Nutrition needs to start at zero, literally. Zero is the number of calories in water and water is a great starting point when discussing sensible eating. A teen’s body is made up of 60 percent water. Muscle is actually 70 percent water and having a two percent water loss will affect an athlete’s performance. Not properly hydrating the body can have serious consequences. Dietary experts have a simple water-intake formula. Teens weighing over 100 pounds should be drinking 50 percent of their body weight ‘in ounces.’ (150 lb weight = 75 oz. of water, e.g.) Young athletes can start off on the right foot nutritionally by drinking 12 ounces of water upon waking up, and then continue the practice of hydrating throughout the day.
When it comes to actual food, a diet for a teen should include:
- 45-65 percent carbohydrates (oatmeal, whole grain rice/pasta, yogurt)
- 25-35 percent fats (fish oils, nuts, avocados)
- ½ a gram per pound proteins, 150 lb. teen = 75 grams, e.g. (eggs, seafood, poultry)
Carbohydrates efficiently fuel production of body energy which is integral in an athlete’s performance in the areas of endurance and power. Some fats are actually good for the body. Omega-3 and monosaturated fats assist in moving substances in and out of body cells. These fats also help brain and nervous system health. Proteins make red blood cells (brings oxygen to muscle) and white blood cells (fights infections). Proteins also make hormones which assist in repairing muscles after workouts/games. Vitamins and minerals should be available for the body through healthy choices in fruits and vegetables, and a daily multi-vitamin will help teen athletes as well.
The importance of breakfast is widely known, but for teen athletes it can be difficult due to early morning practices. Even a healthy breakfast, if eaten less than 45 minutes prior to a game or workout, can cause athletes problems. Simplify it by eating something light like a whole wheat bagel (minus the cream cheese) or a banana. Be sure to have a healthy snack available after the morning session – like chocolate milk. Recent studies have concluded chocolate milk to be as good as sports drinks in the replacement of electrolytes and carbohydrates after a workout or game.
Figuring out a set of eating habits can be challenging, specially as a teenager but it is all about balance, and listening to your own body. If you drink enough water, maintain a healthy carbs, fats and protein ratio and don’t forget about breakfast you are on the right track.