Fueling your adolescent athlete

Knowing what and when to eat and drink can help your young athlete be on top of his or her game. Your teen’s schedule might seem more like a pro athlete’s workout schedule with two-a-days, strength-training programs, and speed training. However, these are common building blocks of teen athletes’ training for sports. The table below provides general guidelines for what and when to drink and eat before, during, and after practice and workouts.

Fluids

Divide your child’s weight (in pounds) by two—that’s the minimum amount of water (in ounces) he or she should drink over an entire day. One ounce is about a gulp.

Before exercise

  • Breakfast: water and/or 100% fruit juice
  • Before exercise: water (5–10 oz 15–20 min before)
  • Check bodyweight before workout

During exercise

  • First hour: water (5–10 oz every 15–20 min)
  • Longer than one hour: sports beverage (3–8 oz every 15–20 min)

After exercise

  • Check your child’s bodyweight again and compare it with his or her pre-workout weight. Hydrate enough to make up for the weight lost.
  • Check your child’s urine color. (Use a color chart like the one below for an idea what to look for.)
  • Within two hours after exercise: water or sports beverage (20–24 oz per pound lost).

Eating nutrient-packed meals and snacks before, after, and even during practices and games is essential for optimal performance. The right balance of carbohydrates and protein work together to fuel and build muscles. The table below offers some ideas.

Before exercise

During exercise

After exercise

Essential: Get some food in your system before practice or workout! (Aim for 30–60 minutes before.)

Eat what you can tolerate, such as:

  • Breakfast sandwich (egg with whole-grain English muffin or bagel)
  • Whole-grain bread/bagel with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese
  • Greek yogurt with granola
  • Whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk, and fresh fruit
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Smoothie made with low-fat yogurt and fruit (fresh or frozen)
  • Granola bar (look for at least 4 grams of protein and 3 grams

Break (for Two-a-Days): Eat what you can tolerate and remember that you need to replenish for your second workout.

Suggestions:

  • Whole-grain bread with lean meat
  • PBJ sandwich
  • Hummus with pita chips
  • Whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese
  • Granola bar and fresh fruit
  • Add pretzels or baked chips
  • Add low-fiber fresh fruit such as oranges or watermelon

Essential: Eat immediately after your workout (gym lobby or ride home)—within about 45 minutes.

Suggestions:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk (one or two 8 oz servings)
  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Turkey wrap
  • PBJ sandwich

Dinner: Replenish the body with a well-balanced nutritious meal and hydrate with water.

Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. It’s often difficult for adolescent athletes to stay hydrated in heat and humidity, but drinking regularly and keeping an eye on urine color can be helpful.

Are you hydrated? Take the urine color test. Nearly clear to pale yellow urine indicates optimal hydration and a high level of performance readiness.   When your urine darkens to medium yellow, you’re probably still well hydrated, but slightly less performance ready than when your urine is light yellow.  The darker your urine is, the less hydrated you are and the more likely you are to have decreased performance.  You’re considered dehydrated—and unable to perform at your best—when your urine is dark yellow. You need to drink more water.  If your urine is brown, you might have a severe medical issue. Seek medical aid. You may have blood in your urine or kidney disease.   The color chart is not for clinical use. Some vitamins and supplements might cause a darkening of the urine unrelated to dehydration.  From Human Performance Resources by CHAMP, the Consortium for Health and Military Performance, HPRC-online.org.

Note: Sleep is essential to optimal performance and recovery. Teens need at least 9–10 hours of sleep each night, so factor that in with your fueling plan too!