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Fueling Teen Athletes with Positive Calories

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Feeding the active teenager costs. It costs time, effort, attention and money. Student athletes can consume thousands of calories without making a dent in their hunger. They often juggle tight schedules filled with school, homework, practice and games. Parents often find themselves scrambling for healthy meal and snack options that are also quick to prepare.

Growing teenagers need to eat adequate, high-quality calories every day, but student athletes, according to Sloan Taylor, a board certified sports dietician, “require more calories because they expend more calories.” In addition to her job as a Clinical Dietitian at Saint Francis Hospital, Taylor works with athletes at The University of Tulsa, is an adjunct professor in the School of Nursing there and has her own consulting business, Nutrition By The Minute, LLC. In her experience working with young clients, Taylor said that a common mistake teenage athletes make is not eating enough throughout the day.

“If they haven’t eaten in more than five hours and then go to practice or a game,” Taylor said, “it will be more difficult. They will expend more effort and will become fatigued.”

On the other hand, if an athlete eats less than two hours before practice, he or she may experience intestinal distress. The digestive process will slow down as blood floods to other muscles.

“In an ideal world, students would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular meal hours,” Taylor said, “but students don’t often have control about when they can eat lunch. The biggest problem is the time between lunch and practice.”

Taylor suggests that students eat a carb snack with fruit two hours before practice. Fruit is portable and easy to carry in a backpack. Adding peanut butter crackers will supply good energy and can be digested in that time. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, Taylor said that eating anything, even a convenience food such as Pop-Tarts, is preferable to eating nothing, but she would prefer to see student athletes eating healthy snacks.

Eating a healthy snack a couple of hours before practice can also prevent overeating at dinner. If teenagers manage to make it through a game or workout without fuel, they tend to gorge through the night, consuming more calories than necessary. She also asks her clients to drink chocolate milk within 30 minutes after a workout to provide protein, carbs and electrolytes. She said that sports drinks serve the purpose of “hydration, not nutrient replacement.”

Since parents can’t control what their children eat when they’re at school, Taylor often has her athlete clients go shopping with their parents so they can select the snacks they want. One of her goals is to get young people to be responsible for their health, and this is one way to make that happen.

We crowd-sourced the question, asking parents how they manage to afford to feed the growing teen athlete. Most of the parents suggested keeping single serving foods always available. These moms stock the fridge with hummus, cut veggies and yogurt. String cheese and whole grain crackers with a piece of fruit, they said, makes a great afterschool snack.

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