Move over protein shakes! Five power foods every teen athlete needs

School is in session!  I could say that it was the whistles during drills from the high school football field that reminded me of fall sports season, but truthfully, it was the cross-country team that passed me running on Kelly Drive that made me think about being a teenage athlete. 

Though many teens may not think daily about the direct effect each meal has on their sports performance, the rapidly growing market for sports drinks, nutrition bars, and nutrition supplements has made teenagers more aware of the role nutrition will play in their physical abilities. 

Despite their engaging promises and attractive packaging, there is no super bar, drink, or supplement that will be better than an actual healthy diet for teenagers when it comes to making the most of their time the field. 

There are, however, several foods (or categories of food) that every teen should make sure they are eating in order to prepare and restore their hard working muscles before the next practice or game. 

  1. Water: Yes, just water.  Proper hydration is equally as important as food making sure your body isn’t running on empty.  Even mild dehydration leads to early fatigue and decreased performance.  However, most teens don’t need a sports drink.  They can meet their hydration requirements with water throughout the school day, in addition to drinking water during and after their game.  For vigorous activity more than sixty minutes, a sports drink can be considered, but is not a necessity.
  2. Spinach: Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are great vegetable sources of iron, a mineral that is necessary for carrying oxygen in the blood.  Due to the increased demand of oxygen by working muscles, teen athletes have a higher need for iron than their less active peers.  Pair vegetable sources of iron with vitamin C (peppers, tomatoes) to help absorb the iron. 
  3. Greek Yogurt: Strong bones are just as important as strong muscles during training.  On average, teens typically consume less than the recommended amount of calcium they need in the day to support bone development.  Greek yogurt packs a big punch with a good source of calcium for bone health and protein for muscles. 
  4. Whole grains: Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but truly, are the active body’s fuel.  Carbohydrates are easily utilized for quick energy when there is an increased demand by the muscles, and teens need additional carbohydrates mixed with protein for recovery after the game.  Whole grain breads, whole wheat pasta, and grains like quinoa and lentils have the added benefits of fiber, protein, and minerals, all important for active bodies. 
  5. Nuts: Not only are nuts a good source of protein, but their nutrients serve another purpose.  Nuts are a natural source of healthy, unsaturated fat.  Athletes need fat in their diet because after carbohydrate energy is used, fat provides the body fuel during extended periods of physical activity.   Unsalted almonds, pecans, and even peanuts (technically a legume) are convenient, healthy snacks for teens during the day. 

Have a safe, healthy sports season!

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