Sports is fun but can be grueling.

If you are raising a sport-loving teen, you probably feel like you are constantly chasing your tail trying to keep up with their crazy schedule. School, training and sports matches have you spending a lot of time in your car, getting them to where they need to be. In between, you are juggling all your other responsibilities including making sure the whole family is well fed.

There is a lot of pressure on teens to win in whichever sport they take part in1. Whether it is hockey, rugby, swimming or netball, there are training sessions that must be attended after school. Heading off to training after a long day in the classroom often means they don’t think about eating or have the time to do so. And when they start the exercise they already feel depleted. They are incapable of giving it their all.

They are probably talking in the locker room about supplements that can give them a boost. Some may be useful, but others are potentially dangerous, especially for developing bodies2. Before spending a small fortune on supplements, take a look at what your teen eats everyday. Is his diet meeting his nutritional requirements? Does he need a bit more to enhance his performance when he trains? Is his diet balanced?

 

The Importance of Nutrition In The Teen Years

Teenagers are growing, developing and maturing rapidly. Between the ages of 13 and 20 muscle mass increases, bone density is acquired and the brain develops new connections3. The right nutrients in the optimum amounts are needed to support this development. So, before any exercise is taken into consideration, a teenager’s nutrition requirements are already high.

That means they need to pay attention to what and when they eat. Ensuring that they have a constant energy supply from carbohydrates and fats, and a pool of amino acids from protein to build and repair tissue. Micronutrients are just as important. Whole grains, fruit and vegetables provide the body with essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

 

Eating for Exercise

To succeed at any sport, we need to train. Fitness and skills must be developed if your teen is going to succeed in his chosen sport. Your teen may not be the sporty type, but is working out for other reasons – for health, to build muscle or to lose weight. Whether they are involved in official sport, or doing their own thing at the gym, your teen needs guidance in training and how to get the most out of it.

Leaving the fitness and the skills to the coaches, what your teen eats falls on your shoulders. As a busy parent it can be difficult to know where to start. What is a balanced meal? And do they really need to eat as much as they do? Gone are the days when a single roast chicken could feed the whole family. Your teen can probably eat a whole one all on his own!

 

That is because teen’s energy requirements are higher than yours. They need to eat a lot of food just to meet their basic metabolic energy requirements to support all the growing they are doing4. Proper nutrition for training starts with a healthy, balanced diet that incorporates food from all food groups. To ensure a constant supply of energy and nutrients, the food should be spread as evenly as possible throughout the day.

Breakfast before heading off to school is the best way to start the day. Ideally they should eat something during the day at school and then a meal after school too. A snack in the afternoon to top up and support homework won’t go amiss. And to end the day, a hearty family meal.

Training and matches generally take place some time after the bell rings for the end of the day and dinner time. So, it is the meals in the middle of the day that have the most impact on sports performance.

 

Balanced Nutrition Before Training

Once your teenager understands the need to eat before training, you can start looking at what he is eating. Getting the balance and type of food right, will give him enough energy to start well, and energy reserves to draw on as the training session progresses.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. They provide glucose for the muscles and the brain to use as fuel. Some carbs are digested and released into the blood as glucose very quickly. Others are digested more slowly, resulting in a slower, more sustained release of energy. A variety of carbs is a good idea to ensure a consistent release of glucose into the blood that allows your teen to start their training with enthusiasm and maintain their energy levels throughout their workout5.

The pre-training meal is typically eaten half an hour to two hours before hitting the field6. Try to provide your teen with a variety of fast-release and slow-release carbohydrates. Include whole grain foods such as low GI bread, rice, pasta or sweet potatoes for long-lasting energy and avoid products like energy drinks and candy bars. These will help to ensure that energy levels don’t dip mid-way through training.

To give energy levels a boost just before training, you could give your teen fruit such as bananas, apples or oranges. Banana bread, raisin bread or crackers are also convenient carbohydrate sources, making sure that glucose is the first choice of fuel when your teen starts his workout.

Protein provides the building blocks for muscle tissue7. Providing sufficient protein to support muscle growth and repair is important. It supports your teen’s body, making it possible for them to maintain their rigorous schedule. Handy sources of protein include peanut butter, yoghurt or a boiled egg. When all else fails, a balanced meal replacement shake that provides both protein and carbohydrates covers all the bases.
Proper Nutrition Improves Training
Teenagers have high energy and nutrient requirements even if they don’t participate in sports. When they are training or playing matches almost everyday after school, closer attention needs to be paid to what and when they eat. Muscles need the support of good nutrition to work optimally and recover for the next training session. A combination of slow and fast release carbohydrates and protein can help improve your teen’s performance on the field, court or in the pool.

References

1. Merkel D. Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine [Internet]. 2013 May [cited 2021 Nov 17];151. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/oajsm.s33556

2. Use of dietary supplements and hormones in adolescents: A cautionary tale. Paediatrics and Child Health [Internet]. 2005 Dec 1 [cited 2021 Nov 17]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pch/10.10.587

3. Correction: Adolescence as a unique developmental period. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience [Internet]. 2015 Nov 1 [cited 2021 Nov 17];(6):386–386. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1503/jpn.150268

4. Cheng HL, Amatoury M, Steinbeck K. Energy expenditure and intake during puberty in healthy nonobese adolescents: a systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2016 Sep 14 [cited 2021 Nov 17];(4):1061–74. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.129205

5. Kanter M. High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance. Nutrition Today [Internet]. 2018 Jan [cited 2021 Nov 17];(1):35–9. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/NT.0000000000000238

6. Aandahl MH, Noordhof DA, Tjønna AE, Sandbakk Ø. Effect of Carbohydrate Content in a Pre-event Meal on Endurance Performance-Determining Factors: A Randomized Controlled Crossover-Trial. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living [Internet]. 2021 May 28 [cited 2021 Nov 17]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2021.664270

7. Pasiakos SM, Howard EE. High-Quality Supplemental Protein Enhances Acute Muscle Protein Synthesis and Long-Term Strength Adaptations to Resistance Training in Young and Old Adults. The Journal of Nutrition [Internet]. 2021 May 12 [cited 2021 Nov 17]; Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab099