Nutrition for Teen Athletes
As an athlete, fueling your body is equally as important as having the right equipment for your sport. Let’s consider how you are fueling your body to perform at its optimal level: when we feed our body nutritious foods, we are not only supporting activity and athletic performance, we are fueling the brain and all of the tissues in the body. When we eat well, we think clearly, our muscles are strong, we have energy all day and our immune system works well. You can perform at your optimal best and propel yourself to the top of your sport.
Sports are also an amazing way to connect with others, connect with yourself, understand your body, get outside, step outside your comfort zone and develop confidence, physical strength and flexibility. However, if you do not provide your body with the proper fuel it needs, participating in sports can feel daunting, exhausting and unenjoyable. Paying attention to your body and providing it with the nutrients it needs to perform will enable you to feel fulfilled in whatever activity you choose to participate.
Anyone who is passionate about any physical form of movement. Perhaps you are part of a sports team such as soccer, basketball, baseball, or hockey, or an individual sport like swimming, yoga, running or going to the gym.
Food is fuel! It is important that you are eating enough food when you are training in any sport or activity. Eating a whole foods diet with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats is essential. The more active you are, the more fuel your body will need to perform all of its important jobs. Ensuring optimal calcium and magnesium for the muscles and bones and iron from protein sources will help to keep you strong and performing well.
Try: a balanced diet which includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Some examples of foods you may like to include are:
- Apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple, watermelon
- Spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash
- Brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, oatmeal
- Wild caught fish, eggs, organic chicken, turkey, pork, wild game, and occasionally beef
- Olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, nut butters, avocado
Moon Cycle - If you are on your cycle, eating plenty of protein and iron-rich foods will help to ensure your iron levels remain healthy. Eating enough also helps to support healthy hormones, provides energy and keeps your body strong.
Water and Electrolytes - Exercise makes us sweat and when we sweat, our body loses water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are dissolved minerals in our body that carry an electrical charge and help control balance within the body. Some electrolytes include calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium.
Try: drinking plenty of water throughout the day and even more after exercise. Aim for about 2-3L per day depending on your size and the amount you sweat. Avoid sports drinks that claim to replenish electrolytes as they are full of sugar and artificial ingredients that your body doesn’t need. Coconut water offers a natural alternative, quickly replenishing electrolytes. Adding sea salt to your regular drinking water is incredibly beneficial for keeping your electrolytes in balance and properly hydrating the cells of your body for optimal performance.
Carb loading- If you participate in very vigorous and longer-term sports activities (long distance or a marathon runner, soccer) or activities that require bursts of energy interspersed with bouts of lower intensity exercise (such as basketball) you may want to consider the concept of carb-loading. Your body primarily prefers to use glucose (carbs) for energy which are stored in your liver and muscle cells as glycogen. During intense or longer durations of activity, your glycogen stores are depleted quickly, leaving you with little readily available energy to be used as fuel.
Try: 60-90 minutes before your event, making a high carb drink with 500mL of water, 2 tbsp pure maple syrup, ¼-½ tsp sea salt and the juice of ¼ lemon. This will provide your body with not only readily available glucose for maximum energy (from the maple syrup), but also a good balance of electrolytes (from the sea salt and lemon juice). This can also be consumed again after your event to restore your glycogen stores and rebalance your electrolytes.
Sleep Habits- In order to perform your best, you need to give your body optimal time to rest and recover. Sleep is especially important as both a teen and as an athlete. In our early teen years, our bodies are still developing, and hormones are changing. Ensuring adequate sleep helps to support growth and development as well as muscle recovery to keep you strong at the next big game or athletic event.
Try: to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep each night.
Visualizing your reality is a powerful tool that begins with positive thinking. What you think creates your external reality. Many top-level athletes practice the power of visualization to get themselves to the top of their sport. Seeing themselves perform at the highest levels helps propel them to the top.
Try: repeating positive affirmations each morning, leave yourself notes of inspiration in places where you often look. Create a vision board where you may choose to write, draw, and paste images or pictures which inspire your goals and dreams. In your mind, practice your sport and envision yourself overcoming challenges and accomplishing your goals.
Body Image- In some sports, weight classes and specific body types are encouraged or pressured. If you feel as if you’re being pressured to lose weight or gain weight or go on a strict diet, it is important to speak with someone you trust. As a growing teen, eating enough, especially when playing a sport is so important. Remember that all bodies are not built the same and that being a top athlete does not imply a specific size.
Try: feeding your body with real, whole foods, emphasizing positive self-talk, and speak to a parent or nutritionist if you have concerns about your body image or weight.
Turmeric – a potent anti-inflammatory herb, turmeric can help reduce inflammation in your body after a workout and is a great anti-oxidant, helping our immune system.
Try: making a warm cup of golden milk (almond milk + turmeric + cinnamon + honey) or adding ground or fresh turmeric to cooked meals or into a smoothie.
Ginger – ginger is another great and gentle herb. It has antibacterial properties and can help to ward off illness. It also aids in digestion, helping your body to breakdown and use all of the food you eat.
Try: making a lemon ginger tea (water + fresh lemon + fresh ginger + honey). Drink cold on a hot day.
Cordyceps –is a mushroom that can reduce inflammation, increase energy and focus and strengthen the immune system. *best taken earlier in the day as it can be stimulating.
Try: adding cordyceps to your favorite smoothie after a workout or training session.
Chaga –is another mushroom which contains many vitamins and minerals and helps reduce oxidative stress which may be caused by excessive training or athletic performance. It's also a potent immune-booster.
Try: brewing a Chaga tea which has a very gentle soothing taste.
L-Glutamine –helps support the muscles in the body and prevents breakdown. It is also excellent support for the digestive system and brain.
Try: adding a tsp of L-glutamine to your smoothies or favorite juice.
Probiotics – our digestive health impacts not only how well nutrients are absorbed and assimilated into the body, it also affects our mood, cognition and mental wellbeing. Probiotics add beneficial bacteria to the gut to help support a healthy microbiome.
Try: a daily probiotic supplement containing 15-25 billion colony forming units of beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two primary colonies found in the human gut).
Vitamin C – is a powerful antioxidant that is important in supporting the growth and development of muscles, bone, and joints and supports recovery after exercise.
Try: Loading up on vitamin C from food sources such as lemons, red & green peppers, oranges, and strawberries.
Vitamin D – is an important factor in building strong bones and muscles as it is necessary to absorb calcium.
Try: spending more time outdoors, receiving vitamin D straight from the sun! Foods such as mushrooms, liver, eggs, and salmon also have high levels of vitamin D.
Magnesium – helps with muscle recovery, reducing muscle cramps, and can assist in relaxation.
Try: magnesium flake baths, a magnesium supplement or drink at bedtime for a restful sleep and recovery.