Helping your Teen Athlete Eat Healthy

Everyone knows that teenagers often have bigger appetites because of their rapid growth.  Teen athletes, who can burn through as many as 5,000 calories a day, need even more food than their peers.  If they don’t get enough calories it affects their energy level and can impact their athletic performance.  In some cases, insufficient calories may even cause problems with their overall growth.  But it isn’t enough for teen athletes to eat enough calories; it is also important that they are taking in the right mix of nutrients and have a relatively balanced diet.


Parents can help support the nutritional needs of their teen athletes by starting each day with a healthy breakfast.  Have carbohydrate and protein filled choices such as whole grain bagels, peanut butter, eggs, yogurt and oatmeal available for a quick and healthy breakfast at home or on the go.


Everyone needs to eat a balanced diet but for teen athletes this is even more important. Their bodies are still growing which means they need the right mix of nutrients to support that growth while also providing the building blocks to boost performance and repair minor injuries.  According to, a teen athlete’s diet should be 60-65% carbohydrates, 12-15% protein, and 20-30% healthy fats.  Each of these three is equally important to your teen athlete’s development and performance.  Carbohydrates provide the main fuel source for their body, while protein helps build muscle.  Fats like those found in avocados and fish are critical to athletic performance because they provide the fuel for sustained energy.


Teen athlete’s need to pay particular attention to their water intake and be diligent about keeping themselves hydrated.  Drinking water throughout the day as well as before, during, and after physical exertion is the best way to maintain the optimal level of hydration in the body.  When teen athletes become dehydrated, they may feel more tired, have less energy, and be less able to perform as expected on the field.


While there is no set amount of calories that all teen athletes need each day, the requirements are higher for teens that are active in sports or other physical activities.  On average, teen athletes may need 2,000 calories more per day than their less athletic friends.  The actual number is dependent on the person however and varies based on weight, sport, and age.  The best way to determine the right amount of calories for your teen athlete is to work with a registered dietitian.


One of the best ways to help teen athletes get the balanced diet and number of calories they need is to ensure they have healthy, energy boosting snacks available throughout the day.  If your teen has practice directly after school they may be hitting their worst energy slump of the day just as practice is starting.  Depending on what time lunch period is, it may have been 3 or more hours since their last meal and by the time practice is over, they may have gone for seven or more hours without anything substantial to eat.  Pack snacks in their sports bag for before and after practice to ensure they have the energy to power through.   Healthy and energy-boosting snack choices include nuts, dried fruits and fresh fruits and vegetables.

By Rachel Daberkow, MS. RD.



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