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Nutrition Tips for the Teenage Athlete

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTPLeave a Comment

During the school year it is common for teenage athletes to find their schedules jammed packed with class, homework, practice and competition. When students are this busy, eating can be overlooked. Sometimes meals are skipped or home-cooked meals are substituted for fast food while running from one practice to another. Proper nutrition is important as the food we eat becomes the fuel for our bodies.

Athletes have unique needs compared to their less active peers. Athletes need more calories each day for proper performance and teenage athletes also need to meet their body’s growing requirements. Teenage athletes may need 2,000-5,000 total calories per day depending on how active they are. A well balanced diet of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, as well as proper hydration, will ensure a teenage athlete will meet their body’s energy demands.

What Can Happen if Athletes Don’t Have Proper Nutrition?

  • Less likely to achieve peak performance
  • May breakdown rather than build up muscles
  • May not be as fast or strong
  • May not maintain their weight
  • In extreme conditions, athletes can be at increased risk for fractures or growth problems

Healthy Eating Tips for Teen Athletes:

  1. Eat a meal with protein and carbohydrates 2-4 hours before practice or competition.
    -Examples: turkey or chicken sandwich, milk and cereal, pasta with tomato sauce
  2. If you don’t have time for a full meal, eat a snack if less than 2 hours before your practice or competition.
    – Examples: melons, cherries, low fat yogurt, bagel, carrots, crackers
  3. Consider not eating anything 1 hour before practice as digestion takes energy and leaving food in your stomach can make you feel bloated or cause abdominal cramping
  4. Sugary snacks and drinks can give you a quick burst of energy but also lead to a “crash” before the end of practice.
    – Sugary snacks and drinks also do not provide proper nutrients
  5. Your body needs fats for energy and to function properly. However, since fats can also slow down digestion, it is best to avoid a high fat meal too close to practice or competition.
  6. Although fast food is easy to grab and go, it has a lot of excess “empty” calories that don’t necessarily provide proper nutrition.
    – There are ways to make fast food a “better” option, such as grilled chicken, eliminating the bun, and being careful of extra add-on items like cheese, bacon, etc.
  7. Water is important to stay hydrated, including replacing what is lost as we perspire during exercise.
    – Athletes benefit from drinking water before, after and during practice (every 15-20 minutes during practice)
  8. Sports drinks can be beneficial when exercising for more than 60-90 minutes in hot weather.
  9. Avoid energy drinks before exercise. They contain caffeine, a diuretic, which can contribute to dehydration.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

References:
“A Guide to Eating for Sports.” Edited by Sarah R. Gibson, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Sept. 2014, kidshealth.org/en/teens/eatnrun.html.

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