Eating and Nutrition for the Teen Athlete

It’s easy to lose a sense of balance regarding food and eating when you’re an athlete. This is especially true if athletics and sports become a passion in your life. You want to perform well; you want to look good when you’re performing and you want to keep your body in top shape to be able to hone your skills in your sport.


However, with an emphasis on performance, and in some sports such as gymnastics, ballet, figure skating, and long distance running, there’s an emphasis on how the body looks, and together this might keep you from eating enough. It might keep you from eating at levels you need to in order to stay healthy, balanced, and physically whole.


No doubt teen athletes face significant challenges to their physical and mental health. For instance, female teens who exercise excessively are vulnerable to what is known as the Triad Syndrome, or simply the Triad. This disorder is frequently seen among teen athletes who participate in sports that emphasize low body weight and thinness. The Triad is a psycho-physiological disorder that includes an eating disorder, amenorrhea (the absence of a menstrual period), and decreased bone mineral density (fragile bones that are more likely to fracture). The disorder is known as a triad because if a female experiences one of these challenges, she is likely to experience the other two.


Risk factors for the Triad include sports that pressure female athletes to perform at certain standards and who require periodic weight check-ins. However, there are similar pressures for male athletes as well. Regardless of gender, as a teen athlete, you face the challenge of keeping up with the nutritional demands of your sport while also consuming the nutrients required to grow. It’s important to remember that you’re not only competing; you’re still growing.


And as an adolescent, you’re growing emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. In fact, the brain is going through a huge explosion of growth and that alone requires a significant amount of nutrition and protein.


The following foods can help build a foundation for healthy eating. The main premise is to eat from a wide variety of classes so that you’re getting all the nutritional factors you need to develop to your full potential.


Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains: This should make up ¾ of every meal. These foods provide carbohydrates, which is primary fuel for working hard at practice. You only have a limited supply of this food source in your body so being sure to replenish this food type is essential. If you don’t, you’ll notice yourself dragging in practice.


Protein Foods: This food group should make up the other ¼ of your meal. These are foods like meats, chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, beans, and tofu. They provide amino acids, which are the building blocks for making other types of protein, and help you build muscle tissue. This food group is also a good source of iron. This is an important mineral you need to maintain your energy level.


Dairy Foods: The best recommendation for this food group is to have 3-4 servings per day. This includes milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese and ice scream. Remember to choose lower fat options as best you can. These foods provide high quality protein, carbs, calcium, and Vitamin D as well. During the growth of adolescence, you’ll be adding on 40% more bone to your body, requiring all the calcium you can get.


Fat: This is the primary muscle fuel you use during low intensity activities. Be sure to steer clear of the unhealthy versions and instead choose the healthy fats such as those found in fish, like salmon; and a variety of plant sources, such as nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils.


When you’re exercising intensely every day be sure to stay hydrated, keep fueling your body, and make sure to reload depleted sources of energy. For instance, start your exercise fully hydrated and fully fueled. Rehydrate and refuel as needed during exercise. Finally, after exercise, remember to replenish your body with the fuel and nutrients it needs.




Jensen, C. (n.d.). Eat to Compete in High School. PowerBar. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from: