What is the number one nutrition concern for teen athletes?

Hydration is key for most athletes and teens and pre-teens can dehydrate faster than adults. Remember that by the time we actually feel thirsty we have already lost 1% of our body weight in fluids. Dehydration can lead to impaired function and can be detrimental, not only to performance, but to recovery as well. Make sure your athlete maintains proper hydration levels during game season by turning to pure water the night before and during game/practice day. 16 oz. the night before and another 16-20 oz. upon rising will help start your athlete on the right foot. Gaining 8-12 oz. each hour until the game/practice will also ensure a well hydrated and focused athlete. Limit sodas, as they provide no nutritional fuel for performance or growth. Electrolyte drinks, such as Gatorade or PowerAde, are good choices for prolonged periods of exercise or exercising in extreme heat. Also, make sure your athlete obtains plenty of carbohydrates for fuel and keep them whole grain for better performance.

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Teen athletes are often concerned with increasing their own overall athleticism -- speed, strength, agility, etc. -- and too often will look for a quick, easy solution in the form of performance and/or nutritional supplements. The number one concern for these teen athletes should be focusing on food as the primary source of the nutrients they need, rather than depending on pills, powders, and shakes to boost their on-field performances. While proper amounts of natural proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats will build a young athlete’s body, additional supplements, such as the ever-popular creatine options, can potentially cause more harm than good. That is not to say that all supplements are useless or harmful. In fact, if teen athletes focus on their diets, additional supplements can produce beneficial results under the guidance of a qualified trainer, coach, or nutritionist. Still, the most important thing to remember for teen athletes is that they can and should get the energy they need from the food they eat every day. 
I think this is an excellent question and you see all kinds of things about supplements for youth, best nutritional strategies for youth but when you get right down to it the number one concern for teen athletes is their nutrition throughout the entire day.

Basic core nutritional principles is the number one concern for all teen athletes. The majority of teens do not eat 3 square meals per day. The art of the family dinners, big breakfasts and healthy lunches have been replaced with either no or extremely quick and empty breakfasts and dinners and lunches eaten out that are loaded with calories, sugars and garbage.

It is no wonder that a teens diet is lacking in quality protein and whole grains along with fruits and veggies. When adult comes to me and asks about their nutrition or supplements I take them back to the basics. If they can eat a good quality breakfast, lunch and dinner that is packed with good nutrition, then we can worry about the others.

With our teens, lets worry about the big 3 (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and then we can focus on other things. The big 3 in my opinion is the number one concern for teens.

Technology and new additions and inventions are great but sometimes we can learn from the past. Nutrition of the past and our lifestyles can teach us tremendous things about what we need to do today.
Heather R. Mangieri
Nutrition & Dietetics
Getting adequate nutrition for growth and development during the teenage years should be the number one priority; additional calories to fuel activity are essential for performance. However, as a sports dietitian, I see a lot of teenage athletes that are deficient in iron, a major contributor to fatigue which can lead to injury. Iron deficiency is the number one nutrient deficiency for children and adolescents. As an active teen, making sure that iron rich foods are consumed as part of a healthy diet should be a priority.
The number one nutrition concern for teen athletes is that they consume the proper amount of calories from quality food to keep up with the demands required of any sport. Skipping meals and poor eating habits will cause a teen to struggle with the high energy, endurance and stamina required for practice and competition.

High quality carbohydrates are the go to foods for sustained energy and fuel the body needs for long lasting activity:
  • Whole wheat and whole grain pasta and breads
  • Whole grains: oats, barley, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, bulgur wheat, brown rice, wild rice (just to name a few).
  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Vegetables and fruit
Protein is the building block for muscle, bone and skin and aids in recovery:
  • Lean turkey, chicken and beef
  • Fresh fish
  • Dairy products
Healthy fat benefits every cell in the body, promotes heart health, lubricates joints and provides the body with needed energy:
  • Nut oils
  • Natural, no oils added, nut butters
  • Avocados
Hydration is critical for any athlete:
  • Drink water before, during and after practice and competition
  • Coconut water is a healthy choice to replace lost electrolytes
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks
The biggest concern should be making sure your teen is getting enough healthy food. If your teenager works out more than their less-active peers, they will generally need extra calories (this is the way food energy is measured) to fuel both sports performance and growth. Depending on how active they are, you may need anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 total calories per day to meet their energy needs.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.