Feeding a hungry teenage athlete

Foods and beverages to keep your teen fit for game time

By Christine Langlois

Fuel in their engines

High-energy eating for athletes

If you're the parent of a teen athlete, you're busy. When you're not driving your sports enthusiast to or from practices, you're at the grocery store stocking up on enough food to keep your teen's hunger at bay. To meet the body's nutrient demands for growth plus the requirements of high energy for training, teen athletes may need over 4,000 calories a day.

Encourage a teen who is involved in strenuous activities or sports to choose more servings from the food groups of grain products and vegetables and fruit than the number suggested in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating. Endurance athletes such as marathon runners, cyclists, and tri-athletes need 15 or more servings daily from these food groups, which provide carbohydrates, the main source of energy for exercise. The National Institute of Nutrition in Ottawa recommends that adolescents participating in high-intensity long-duration training consume a diet that provides about 60 per cent of total energy intake from carbohydrates. Offer your teen lots of whole-grain bread, potatoes, legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils), corn, pasta, rice, cereal, and fruit.

If he comes home talking about carbohydrate-loading before the big meet, talk to his coach. Carbohydrate-loading is a strict regime that involves consuming a very high carbohydrate diet and tapering activity for the two or three days before an event. It may be harmful to growing teens.

Pumping iron

All athletes need plenty of iron-containing foods such as meat, legumes, vegetables, and grains. But dietary iron deficiency is even more prevalent in adolescents who are athletic, particularly female high-endurance athletes. Iron is the component in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to working muscles. A simple blood test at the doctor's office is all it takes to diagnose whether your daughter does have an iron deficiency. If she does, her doctor may suggest iron supplements. But ensure she takes no more than prescribed, since too much iron can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

Drink up

The athletic teen needs to drink extra fluids to regulate her body temperature. Active muscles generate heat, and fluids help remove that heat. Without adequate fluids, your teen may become dehydrated, which causes fatigue and increases the risk of cramps and heat exhaustion. An adolescent's sweat losses are similar to those of an adult.

To prevent dehydration, your teen should drink before, during, and after exercise. Quenching one's thirst alone does not satisfy the body's need for water, especially during exercise when thirst is blunted. You need to make sure that your teen leaves the house with a filled water bottle and that the coach insists that she drink.

For training that lasts one hour or less, water is the preferred beverage. Avoid coffee, iced tea, and colas. The caffeine in these drinks acts as a diuretic and may increase urine output and fluid loss. When the level of training or competition and heat or humidity are extreme, your teen may benefit from a sports drink. If you're tired of paying big money for little bottles of sports drinks, mix up a huge jug of your own for a fraction of the cost. Simply combine 2 mL (1/2 tsp.) of salt, 375 mL (11/2 cups) of granulated sugar, 500 mL (2 cups) of unsweetened orange juice, and 4.5 L (18 cups) of water.


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