with Elaine Hastings, RD
Tips for High School Athletes
Today’s adolescent athletes are stronger, fitter and faster than ever. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, if you’re a rugby player or a figure skater – the energy requirements are significant when intense training and competition are part of your daily routine. And for teens, all this occurs at a time when they are in the midst of the biggest growth spurt since their first year of life. The unique combination of high-energy output, rapid growth and a desire for peak performance means, more than ever, that nutrition is key to achieving your athletic goals.
The most important nutritional requirement for teen athletes is to fuel growth and development first, and to support athletic performance second. Inadequate food intake can translate to sub-par performances, muscle breakdown, injuries and even undesirable weight loss. But beware – this doesn’t give license to load up on greasy fast food and refined sweets! Empty calories are more likely to leave you feeling sluggish. Fuelling for growth and performance means consuming enough nutrient-dense carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (ideally four to six times per day) to ensure you have all the energy you need.
Girls who engage in sports that emphasize body weight, such as gymnastics or distance running, may mistakenly believe losing weight will improve their performance. More likely, they will find themselves low in energy and can be at risk of developing an eating disorder or amenorrhea (loss of menstruation), or set themselves up for early osteoporosis.
So how much is enough? Teenage athletes should be consuming significantly more calories than mom or dad. The recommended daily intake for youth 14 to 18 years of age is 2,300 calories for females, and 3,150 calories for males. Those figures will simply maintain growth and body weight. Energy expenditures due to training and activity will boost nutritional requirements an additional 500-1500 calories per day.
Let’s begin by dispelling the protein myth. Yes, an active teenager needs a little more protein than his inactive peers. Protein helps repair muscle damage and, when taken with carbohydrates, speeds up the body’s ability to restore depleted glycogen. An athletic teen’s daily protein intake should be approximately 1.5 gm/kg of body weight (with an upper limit of 2.0 gm/kg) and account for no more than about 15% of calories.
It’s not difficult to reach this level with whole foods rather than through excessive supplementation. A 6 oz. portion of roasted chicken breast alone contains 50 grams of protein. Easy-to-digest protein shakes can also be an ideal way to start your day or replenish after a workout, especially when frozen fruit, almond milk or flaxseeds are included for added nutrients and fiber. Ideal post-workout snacks can include handfuls of homemade trail mix, veggies and hummus or even chocolate milk.
Keep up the carbs
Let’s not forget that our bodies’ preferred fuel source is carbohydrates. More than half of calories (55-65%) consumed should come from carbs. Not the refined and sugary snacks that give you a boost and then cause a crash an hour later, but complex carbs that provide sustained energy and maintain stable blood glucose levels, especially during long days of training or competition. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains should be the primary source of carbs.
Athletes engaged in “power sports” such as hockey or rugby may sometimes underestimate their body’s need for carbs and overestimate their need for protein. Chances are that if they’re having trouble gaining weight or muscle mass, it’s likely they’re not eating enough nutrient-dense food. Carbs are essential for muscle recovery and to restore glycogen stores after prolonged or intense exercise.
The evening before a competition or intense training session, include nutrient-dense and carbohydrate-rich foods such as sweet potatoes, brown rice or whole grain pasta as part of your meal. Fuel up before your morning practice with easy-to-digest foods such as oatmeal and berries or whole-grain toast with almond butter; take along some bananas, oranges or whole-grain pretzels for an energy boost between games and enjoy a whole-grain sandwich with lots of veggies and tuna or turkey when the tournament is over. Those fruits and veggies have the added benefit of providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects after a day of hard training.
Don’t fear fats!
Teen athletes can consume up to 25-30% of their daily calories from fats. These should consist primarily of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, including essential fatty acids such as omega-3s. Let’s distinguish “good” fats from “bad” ones – which include processed, fried and hydrogenated oils that can harm cell membranes and interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients. French fries and pastries will only slow you down. “Good” fats such as cold-water fish, nuts and olive oil are converted to energy more readily and therefore are an excellent source of energy for muscles.
Omega-3s have the added benefits of reducing inflammation, improving recovery from fatigue and promoting the release of growth hormone. Healthy fat intake will keep your energy topped up and help minimize or speed up the healing of injuries. Aim to include at least one serving of salmon or halibut each week; munch on walnuts, cashews or pumpkin seeds; add avocado slices to your salad and add a generous drizzle of flax or olive oil.
Pumping iron (and calcium)
Calcium and iron are two minerals that deserve special mention. A 2006 study of over 4,700 adolescents concluded that female adolescent athletes are at risk of developing deficiencies in both calcium and iron. Inadequate calcium intake can result in reduced bone mineral density, and may increase the risk of stress fractures or osteoporosis in later years. Meet your calcium needs by eating plenty of leafy greens, yogurt, salmon, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Female athletes often tend to be anemic as iron losses can be accelerated through menstruation and heavy sweating. Low iron can cause undue fatigue and reduced athletic performance, so be sure to include red meat, legumes and leafy greens in your diet to keep your iron stores topped up.
Hydration always helps
Young athletes can be particularly vulnerable to dehydration, especially in the heat. Even mild dehydration can affect both physical and mental performance, so try to drink at least 8-12 cups of water throughout the day. And be sure to take in 8-16 ounces of water an hour before exercise, and have a sip every 15-20 minutes throughout your activity, remembering to replenish lost fluids when you’re done. Sports drinks and electrolyte replacements aren’t necessary unless the activity lasts beyond 60-90 minutes.
Optimal performance goes hand in hand with optimal nutrition. Your unique needs as a teen athlete require conscious effort and attention. If you want that competitive edge to reach your peak performance, don’t underestimate the power of food.
Here’s a family-favorite recipe for breakfast birchermuesli that’s perfect in the morning or any time of day as a snack. It’s loaded with fiber, potassium, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Enjoy!
- 1 cup of rolled oats
- 1 cup of organic plain yogurt
- 1 granny smith apple
- 1/2 banana
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 5 mejdool dates
- 1/4 cup raw walnuts
- 2 tbsp. ground flaxseed
- 1 tbsp. maple syrup
- juice of 1/2 lemon
Use organic ingredients wherever possible. Add or substitute ingredients according to your preferences. Some suggestions include almonds, dried apricots, raisins, blueberries, honey, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, almond milk, and protein powder… the possibilities are endless!
Soak oats in 1 cup of room-temperature filtered water; minimum 4 hours, preferably overnight.
In the morning (or once oats have soaked for several hours), combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve later for up to two days. Good for 4 – 6 servings.
Adapted from the original Bircher-Benner Muesli (circa 1900).
Nutrition Information (per serving):
Calories: 358 / Carbohydrates: 57g (64%) / Protein: 10g (11%) / Fat: 10.5g (9g of which are mono and poly unsaturated) (25%)
Stay in Your Game™
Eat and move for Top Performance in YOUR Life
…work. fitness. kids. corporate. teams. athletes
Elaine Hastings, Your Game Changer™
Thanks Fitness Republic – great post!