Time Out! Is Your Teen Athlete Getting Enough Nutrients?

It’s 6:45 p.m. and soccer practice is in full swing on a field almost an hour from our home. My son won’t get home until almost 8:45 p.m. at which time he’ll scarf down the meal the rest of the family ate hours before. He’s a pre-teen and, like many of his peers, regular family meals for him are often replaced with the hunger to succeed on the field.


Sure, dinner always happens, but at a much later time than his body (or his mom) would like. Holding off eating – especially for adolescents – is a habit that starts innocently enough, but can quickly lead to bad nutritional habits. Studies show that oftentimes kids prefer snacking than eating a meal, which means all those important calories that are supposed to happen at dinner time often get replaced by foods higher in fat and lower in nutrition.


Your adolescent’s body relies on high-energy foods featuring protein, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, vitamin D, potassium and fiber to deliver calories and nutrition needed for good mental and physical health. When teens – especially those who are working out several times a week – don’t get the nutrients needed, they can become dehydrated, sluggish, vitamin deficient and downright grouchy. Not fun for anyone.


Which is why, during National Nutrition Month, Health Net shines the spotlight on the basics of healthy eating. While it’s nearly impossible for teen athletes to bat 1,000 when it comes to eating right at every meal and snack, it’s important to be aware that if parents throw too many curveballs into meal time, bad eating habits, energy deficiencies and poor nutrition can strike.


Take time to remind your athlete of the following healthy habits:

Drink before, during and after practice or games – even when not thirsty – because fluids get lost through sweat. Water and sports drinks are the best options. The plus side to a sports drink is, if you’re playing for more than an hour, it’ll help maintain the body’s electrolyte balance and elevate energy levels (the negative side is the price). It’s best to avoid sugary and carbonated drinks, however.


Make carbs your friend because they’re going to provide energy for those goal-scoring kicks. Things like bread, cereal, pretzels, pasta and rice fuel your teen’s body and allow him or her to work out longer. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are best.


Pack in some protein because it’s essential for building and repairing tissues, growth and energy. Proteins in foods that are animal-based, like lean meat and poultry, in addition to fish, dairy products, soy, nuts and beans contain all the essential amino acids teens need. Vegetarian teens, however, need to be a little strategic about pairing grains and legumes for protein: smear peanut butter on a bagel, wrap up a bean burrito, mix black-eyed peas and rice, and sprinkle cheese on pasta, for example.


Sideline the supplements Teens should choose whole foods over dietary supplements. Make your teen aware that just because a dietary supplement is sold over the counter doesn’t mean it’s safe to use. The FDA doesn’t have to approve supplements or do safety studies on all the ingredients listed in a supplement, so you don’t really know what you’re ingesting. The body mostly absorbs food better than powders and pills anyhow.


Sharing your food knowledge with your teen can help him or her make better choices when you’re not the one providing the snack or meal (which is quite often as your kids get older or when they participate in traveling sports even as pre-teens). Talk about how they’ll win every time by choosing healthy foods when it comes to stabilizing their energy for the game, sharpening their minds for the play and lifting their mood when they happen to – gasp! – lose.











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Lisa Finn