Nutrition for Teen Athletes – The Importance of Nutrition for Active Teenagers

Why Nutrition?

Nutrition, aside from training, is the most imperative element for maximum peak in sports performance. To reach the apex of a teenager’s athletic capabilities, one must eat an array of foods high in nutrition while maintaining a balanced diet. A balanced diet of calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and fluids allow a teenage athlete to perform at the highest level possible.

Energy from Calories

An adequate amount of calories must be consumed to provide energy for exercise. The allowance of calories varies from athlete to athlete. This variation is due to age, sex, weight, mass, and height. A paucity of calories can adversely affect workout performance in addition to the depletion of muscle and bone. Choosing highly nutritious foods such as whole grain bread, dairy, fruits and vegetables allow for the necessary hunger management.

Carbohydrates- The Bulk of Energy

Carbohydrates provide the bulk of the body’s main energy source for exercise. Stored as glycogen in the body, proficient amounts of carbohydrates allow for endurance and stamina. When muscles lack glycogen, fatigue is evident and detrimental. The majority of an athlete’s diet should be carbohydrates, and by focusing on carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and vegetables allows for vitamins and minerals in one’s diet.

Protein and Muscle Growth

Protein helps to build and repair damaged muscle tissue. Protein gives muscles strength and the ability to gain in size. However, protein in excess results in stored fat as opposed to increased muscle growth. Protein should come from fish and lean meat, beans, seeds and dairy products. While some people take supplements to increase amino acid and protein intake; it is often unnecessary when diet can meet protein needs. No supplement, no matter how expensive, allows for increased muscle growth. Muscle growth results from hard work thru proper training and a balanced diet.

In addition, fats help to protect the body’s tissue and organs in addition to assisting in the absorption of vitamins. Fats, consumed in moderation and from good sources such as oils and nuts, provide a steady energy source for the body.

Vitamins – Iron and Calcium

The two most important vitamins for teenage athletes are iron and calcium. Iron can be found in lean red meats, shrimp, cereals and bread. Iron carries oxygen to blood, and also makes up an important part of hemoglobin. Iron also helps to increase the body’s resistance to disease and stress.

Calcium can be found in dairy products and some dark leafy green vegetables. Calcium helps to build bones and keeps them strong. Calcium also helps to prevent hypertension, and colon cancer. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth and is required for almost every major body function.

Why Fluids?

Water helps to move nutrients throughout the body and assists in the removal of waste from the body. Water replacement during exercise is indispensible due to potential dehydration and injury. Eight to ten cups of water is recommended each day. However, additional fluids are necessary for athletes that need to replenish what is lost due to exercise. Athletes should drink fluids routinely, they should not wait until they are thirsty because thirst is not a reliable indicator of fluid loss. Sports drinks can also be helpful, and are recommended for workouts that are in excess of one hour in length because they are able to replace carbohydrates and minerals quickly.