Nutrition Tips for Fueling Your Teen Athlete

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Fueling your teen athlete can be overwhelming and confusing. How do you ensure your teen has enough fuel to finish practice, get through games, and maintain their overall health?

Athletes aren’t built on soda and chips, so make sure your teen is getting the daily nutrition they need by following the tips below.

Stay Hydrated

Fluids are needed to help regulate body temperature and replace sweat during exercise. Your teen’s fluid needs may vary based on the event they’re participating in, how hard they are working, and what the temperature is outside.

Regardless of how much they need, fluid is one of the most important elements of performance.

  • Hydrate before an event. Drink at least 2-3 cups of water a few hours beforehand.
  • Hydrate during an event. Aim to drink one cup of water every 20 minutes while exercising to replace sweat that was lost.
  • If an event will take place in hot weather and will be longer than 60 minutes, consider a sports drink. Sports drinks can help replace electrolytes lost during physical activity.

Meet Your Calorie Needs

Your teen’s daily calorie needs will depend on the sports they play and the amount of physical activity they do. Teen boys typically need between 3,000 – 4,000 calories per day, and girls may need around 2,500 – 3,000.

Even though these are just rough estimates, regular meals and snacks throughout the day are important. Meeting these needs can sometimes be challenging. However, it’s important to fuel your teen athlete with nutritious foods rather than loading them up on “junk food.”

  • Encourage three meals per day and snacks in between.
  • Add calories by increasing foods like nuts, trail mix, avocado and whole grains
  • Make snacks easily available. Pack them in your teen’s sports bag, put grab-and-go snacks in the pantry, and have after-school snacks ready to go when they get home.

Everyone Needs Carbs

Carbohydrates (carbs) are essential for fuel. They are the body’s main source of energy and are necessary for performance. Carbs are stored in the muscle as fuel and used during physical activity. Low-carb diets do not work for teen athletes.

Choices such as whole grain pasta, bread and rice provide nutrients as well as energy. The same can be said for fruit. Orange slices, apple slices, strawberries, blueberries and other fruits are excellent choices. Dairy also provides carbs in addition to much-needed protein.


For muscle-building, protein paired with strength-training is the perfect combination. Protein is essential to any athlete’s nutrition. Needs vary by athlete, but protein should typically take up 10-30% of their daily calories. Athletes do have higher needs than their peers.

Good choices of protein include chicken, beef, cheese, milk, yogurt, fish and tofu. Protein supplements are a quick option to meet protein needs, but getting them straight from the food in your diet is recommended. Most people, athletes included, can meet their protein needs without requiring supplementation.

Meal Timing

The timing of meals is essential, but this can be difficult with busy sports schedules.

  • Avoid eating higher-fat meals close to an event. They take longer to digest and can make performance a little tricky. Instead, choose a carbohydrate and protein-based meal.
  • Early morning practice? Consider a light snack or protein supplement beforehand and follow up with a full meal.
  • Fuel up before an event if it’s not around meal times. Have a pre-game snack one to two hours before an event. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as a granola bar, fresh fruit, whole grain crackers, popcorn, or a bagel are good choices.
  • Refuel after practice. High-fuel foods are needed after an event to replace what was lost. These should consist of a protein and carbohydrate such as fruit and yogurt, crackers and peanut butter, or fruit and cheese.

Fueling your teen athlete with balanced nutrition will lead to success on and off the court, field, track — you name it!

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