Eating Healthy: Tips for Teen Athletes
By Dani Lyons
Food is something that all humans need, and it’s something that we all enjoy! But for athletes,
food holds other functions as well: fueling workouts, helping us recover, making us stronger,
faster, and more resilient. That’s why, as athletes, it’s important that we consider how to fuel
our bodies carefully, and make sure we’re getting all of the nutrients we need.
Let’s start with some general rules about eating healthy. “Eating healthy” looks different for
every person, based on your individual dietary needs, body type, and physical activity.
However, most of us can follow some basic tips for a healthier diet (source: MyPlate).
Make at least half your plate fruits and vegetables.
Make half your grains whole grains (for example, choosing whole wheat bread instead
of white bread).
Eat fewer foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fats, added sugar, and sodium (for
example, drinking water instead of sugary drinks reduces added sugars in your diet).
“Eat the rainbow” to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. That means, eat
fruits and vegetables of all different colors!
Choose variety by eating a balance of items from different food groups.
Learning how to read and compare nutrition labels is a good way to understand the nutrients
that are in your food. You can see how many macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
– which supply calories) are in your food, and see if the food is a good source of any vitamins
and minerals based on the % of the daily value. You can also watch out for saturated fat, trans
fat, and added sugars, which all have to be listed on the food label.
So, on top of these general rules for eating healthy, what’s different for us as athletes? Well, for
one, we need to fuel our workouts. That usually means eating a snack/meal that has a good
amount of carbohydrates before working out; as well as having a snack/meal that is a 2:1
carbs:protein ratio within 30 minutes after working out to refuel. This formula might vary based
on the athlete and their specific goals, but the main idea is that you’ll want to have fuel in your
body before working out, and eat shortly after working out for recovery.
And last, let’s talk about nutrition for rest days. During quarantine, I know that there are weeks
(or months!) where I have had more rest days or lighter workouts than usual. My best advice is
to pay even closer attention to your body and the signals its sending. When you are training less
regularly than usual, your energy needs will vary from day to day. For example, unless you’re
recovering from a particularly intense workout, you usually shouldn’t be eating more on your
rest days than your active days. And, for everyday nutrition you should still focus on having
complete, balanced meals and snacks. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains,
and not too much trans fat, saturated fat, or added sugars.
The bottom line: Aim for healthy, balanced meals and snacks that meet your daily needs – both
on rest days and on days when you’re working out hard. Happy training!