Keeping our Teenagers eating healthily to support their training needs

Athletic Teenagers burn an incredibly high amount of calories, as not only are they exercising but their bodies are growing as well. Obviously, their calorie intake will vary, according to gender, and energy expenditure, however, you should be making sure that your active teenagers are consuming in access of 2500 calories, and much more if they are training every day. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that “teenage male athletes need 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day and female teen athletes need 2,200 to 3,000 calories per day. According to TeensHealth, some teens may need up to 5,000 calories per day, depending on how active they are”. They also need to consider the quality and variety of foods consumed as the teenage years are a critical period of growth, where they need to be building a strong body for their adult life. Teenagers need to make sure they are consuming 1300mg of calcium and at least 400 international units of Vitamin D for growing and developing strong bones, whilst going through puberty. It is often forgotten that it is throughout these teenage years when bones are rapidly growing that they add half of their bone mass they will then have for the rest of their adult life. Therefore, a deficiency in calcium at this stage of their lives could lead to an adult life plagued with stress fractures, weak bones, and potentially osteoporosis. Female athletes need to be particularly careful here, as although physical exercise can help build a healthy, strong bone structure, too much exercise with not enough nutrition will affect oestrogen levels, which will limit calcium absorption, the net result being weak bones and potential stress fractures.

Calcium can be sourced from dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurts, ideally plain as flavoured fruit yoghurts can have a high level of sucrose. Also, leafy green vegetables, oily fish such as mackerel and sardines, vegetables, beans, almond milk dried figs and beans. Other critical micro nutrients necessary for athletic teenagers are iron (a component of blood which carries oxygen to cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells) electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and sodium (which have an effect on the amount of water in your body, particularly when exercising), zinc, (plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates) and vitamin Bs (important for metabolic activity).

Like Adults, our active teenagers also require a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, alongside the important minerals and vitamins discussed above. The recommendation is 45-65% of their daily diet should come from healthy carbohydrates, ( for example, that would be 338 to 488

grams of carbs per day for a teenage athlete consuming a 3,000-calorie diet;) . By this I mean UNREFINED carbs, such as Quinoa, brown rice/pasta options, sweet potatoes, whole-wheat bread and oatmeal, as they are full of fibre, minerals and vitamins, and are slowly released into the system. Unrefined processed carbs contain high levels of sugar, therefore can spike blood sugar levels, which will inevitably result in a crash, and then could lead to binging on the cookies!

Proteins are essential for muscle growth and repair, and according to the Institute of medicine, approximately 10-30% of the daily diet should come from protein. “Today’s Dietician,” maintains that young athletes usually need 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram—or about 0.45 to 0.68 gram per pound—of body weight each day. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a 150-pound teen athlete needs 68 to 102 grams of protein each day. Examples of food options are lean meat, poultry, eggs, sea food, soy products, low fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, and legumes.

Fats are often deemed as the evil in our diets, but the right kind of fats are essential in our diet. Omega 3 and 6 are very important for cognitive development, and certain vitamins (A, D, E, K) are fat soluble, therefore will not be absorbed into our body without fat. Also, fat is an essential fuel for longer endurance based sessions, and if fat is greatly reduced, then this can affect performance as well. However, it is essential that it is the RIGHT fats consumed. Avoid trans – fats, any food product that has been hydrogenated, so packaged goods with long shelf life, fast foods etc are ones to really avoid. Instead choose fats found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, oily fish, hummous, olives, peanut better.

One aspect of their diet I haven’t mentioned as yet, is hydration. If they can keep a water bottle with them at all times (they are allowed bottles in school) so they are continually sipping and keeping themselves well hydrated, it soon becomes habitual. Really try to avoid the high sugary drink options such as fizzy canned drinks, Lucozade, and other such evils (anything that is brightly coloured will be filled with sugar and colorants) as not only is it really bad for their teeth, it will just give them a sugar rush, and a subsequent crash, which will probably result in them heading for the vending machines!! If they are training hard, and are racing as well, particularly in the summer months, then add half a tablet of High 5 electrolyte tablet to their water. There are no calories, but they are packed full of minerals and electrolytes that they will be losing through sweat. (various flavours, so bound to be one they like – to be honest it’s a good habit to get into as an adult as well)

If as parents we can keep their food as “clean” and as balanced as possible, then we are setting them up for a long healthy life, and hopefully building habits that they will continue once they are fending for themselves. I also think it’s really important to discuss food choices with them, why a

balanced healthy diet is important, and why they should view their diet as important as the training they are doing, and let them be involved in the choices and cooking of the food. If they get it wrong at this point in their lives, not only could it limit their current performance, but it could lead to injury and health problems in the future.

This is not to say that treats are out of the question! For us, we have a Friday treat, and homemade Pizza and video! It has become traditional, and I think Ade and I look forward to it more than the kids! 

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