Fueling Teen Athletes with Positive Calories

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.

One mom reported that after a vigorous practice one day, her daughter came home to eat “six pork chops, plus side dishes. I finally realized they eat two dinners every day.” She said that since cooking was low on her list of fun activities, she prepared and froze single portion meals so that her kids can grab and heat up a full meal when they are hungry.

“My kids are free eaters,” another mom said. “They can eat what they want, when they want, but their choices are limited by what we bring home.” In other words, when healthy foods are the only options for hungry kids, they must make better food choices.

For those days when the car doubles as the dinner table, one mom took an approach that negates the need for fast food. “I use lots of casserole and crockpot meals and use thermos containers [to eat on-the-go].”

“Hard boiled eggs are always in the fridge,” another mom said. “It’s a complete protein, and they love them.”

Another mom makes whole grain muffins every week to throw in lunches for a quick boost of energy, and some families have a “fruit first” rule for after school snacks.

Sloan Taylor’s Suggestions for Pre-Workout Snacks

The snack list includes carbohydrate foods (some with protein options)

The snacks are not meant as a meal and some suggestions require refrigeration.

Snack ideas to eat 1-2 hours before practice or competition:

  • chewy or hard granola bar
  • banana (consider adding to chocolate pudding)
  • grapes (10-15) and couple with string cheese
  • peanut butter crackers
  • fig newtons
  • 1/2 plain bagel with small amount of cream cheese or peanut butter
  • fruit or vegetable with small amount of peanut butter
  • apple with PB
  • banana with PB
  • celery with PB
  • small yogurt cup with granola
  • chocolate pudding cup
  • string cheese and 1 piece of fruit
  • Clif Bar
  • Luna Bar
Categories: Big Kids