For teens, grabbing a meal on the run won’t provide the nutrition needed by an athlete focused on winning. A balanced diet ensures peak performance and a healthier future.
A teen athlete’s diet should include:
- Carbohydrates to supply glucose to maintain intensity for short bursts of activities. They affect performance and energy. A tired teen athlete is a teen without adequate carbs.
- Protein - Power sports rely on protein for muscle mass maintenance. A balanced diet discourages the need for protein supplements which can cause dehydration, kidney problems, calcium loss, and diabetes through increased insulin resistance.
- Prevent muscle cramps and dizziness by ensuring proper hydration. Water eliminates toxins and allows the body to regulate temperature. An athlete should never be thirsty.
- Electrolytes needed for proper muscle functioning are lost from sweating during workouts. Sports drinks relapce those salts, supply some carbohydrate, and will help the athlete stay hydrated. Water loss is the only performance limiting effect of sweating. Fluid intake should be the focus.
- Hiking, cycling, distance running and most endurance sports rely on a diet rich in fat that is used by the body when reserves of glycogen are depleted. Most healthy fat is found in vegetable oils.
- Calcium helps protect against stress fractures by building healthy bone mass. Females already have inadequate supplies of calcium due to growth spurts and athletes require even more. Sports stress the body, lowering estrogen levels, leading to osteoporosis if care is not taken to replace the calcium stores.
- Iron carries oxygen to the muscles and a healthy supply prevents fatigue and impaired growth. Many teens lack iron and teen athletes even more so.
- Avoid growth supplements derived from hormones that can harm your health permanently by raising cholesterol levels, damaging the liver, kidneys or heart, or causing the body to develop anomalous sexual characteristics.
- Do not restrict weight gain unless under a doctor’s supervision. Starving yourself slows muscle development during periods of growth that will not be restored later.
- Foods high in fiber help maintain weight. Fiber improves the body’s handling of glucose and insulin, preventing diabetes and reduces the risk of colon cancer.
- Eat regular balanced meals. Consult your team physician, athletic trainer, or family doctor for help.