Archive for Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Proper nutrition vital for teen athletes

May 1, 2002


How should a teen-age athlete's diet differ from a nonathlete's diet?

In general, athletes need more fluids and calories. The best distribution of food for an athlete is the same as recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (available online at Some athletes need additional food, though, because of their need for more energy, or calories.

A well-balanced diet with a variety of foods is recommended. Regular meals and snacks throughout the day will help ensure performance and well-being.

During competition, athletes should avoid eating new or unusual foods and beverages. Instead, they should choose familiar items in quantities that have been eaten during training.

Fluids are also important. Dehydration decreases muscle strength, endurance and coordination and increases risk of cramps and heatstroke.

If athletes get used to drinking fluids at regular intervals during training sessions even if they're not thirsty they will be comfortable drinking the same amount and type of fluids during competition.

What type of fluids should teen athletes drink? How much?

Human nutrition specialists with K-State Research and Extension recommend:

14 to 22 ounces of fluid about two hours before exercise;

6 to 12 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise; and

16 to 24 ounces of fluid after for every pound of body weight lost during exercise.

Cool water is a good fluid replacement. Avoid beverages with caffeine. If athletes are exercising for more than one hour or during very hot and humid weather, a sports beverage may be preferable. These provide small amounts of sugar, sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium to replace nutrients lost during exercise.

Is "carbohydrate loading" important before competition?

According to the K-State nutrition specialists, a specific "carbohydrate-loading" diet plan shouldn't be needed if the competition involves less than 90 minutes of continuous activity.

Eating high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods is a healthful way to get adequate calories. Carbohydrates are digested quickly and provide good energy before competition.

Half to two-thirds or more of meal or snack choices should be carbohydrates. Food labels show carbohydrate content.

High-carbohydrate foods are those with starch or sugar. Fruit juices, milk and yogurt contain food sugars. Starchy foods include fresh fruits, rice, grains, pasta, breads, cereals and vegetables, including peas, corn, dried beans and potatoes.

How much protein should a teen athlete eat?

Athletes require about the same amount or a bit more dietary protein as nonathletes. Most athletes' diets provide enough protein to cover the increased amounts that may be needed during the competitive season.

High-protein foods include red meats, poultry, fish, cheeses, milk, tofu, eggs, dried peas, dried beans, nuts and peanut butter. Many high-protein foods have a lot of fat, so opt for low-fat protein foods when possible.

A diet that is too high in protein can be harmful to health and athletic performance. Excess protein is either stored as fat or used for energy. Using protein for energy makes the kidneys work harder and increases the risk of dehydration.

It seems like teen-agers get plenty of fat. How much is recommended for athletic teens?

Dietary fat should be kept to 30 percent or less of calories as the daily average. Daily fat gram totals for athletes may be higher than the amount recommended on food labels because athletes often need more than 2,000 calories per day.

High-fat foods include french fries, doughnuts, candy bars, hot dogs, nachos and chips, as well as oils, margarine, sour cream, mayonnaise and salad dressings.

Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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