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Balanced Meals for Teen Athletes

By Maggie McCormick ; Updated September 26, 2017
Choose healthier foods to fuel your athletic performance.

The average teenager needs a lot of calories to support growth, but teen athletes need even more to support their excess activity levels. According to TeenHealth by Nemours, this could mean anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 calories per day. Though advertisers often push sports bars, sports drinks and protein powders, these are not necessary. Your teen athlete can get all the nutrition she need from eating a balanced diet. If she needs extra calories, just think "double servings."

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A classic breakfast of eggs and whole-grain toast will give a teen athlete both protein and carbohydrates. By choosing an omelette rather than sunny-side-up eggs, the athlete can incorporate some vegetables into his morning meal. Smoothies also allow you to sneak in some vegetables when your teen needs a quick meal on the go. You can include a scoop of protein powder and frozen greens, along with frozen fruits such as bananas and strawberries. Teen athletes need additional iron and calcium to support their growing bones, so provide iron-fortified cereal with milk to get both in an easy-to-prepare meal.


Teenagers need about half as many grams of protein as he weighs in pounds each day, according to HealthyChildren.org, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, a 160 pound teenager would need around 80 grams, or about 20 grams per meal, including snacks. This is easy to get if you give your teen athlete a 3 oz. serving of meat -- buying the school's hamburger or taco -- but that's not always the healthiest option. Instead, pack two protein-filled sandwiches such as peanut butter, sliced ham or egg salad on whole-wheat bread and you'll get close to meeting your teen athlete's protein goals while still offering a healthy alternative. A bean-and-cheese burrito is also a good portable meal that combines vegetarian proteins to make a complete protein, as HealthyChildren.org recommends.


A salad can help provide your teen athlete her vegetables for the day, so have one as a side to a regular dinner, or serve it as the main course when topped with beans or chicken. Combine whole grains with a lean protein such as salmon with brown rice or a vegetarian chili served on top of quinoa. Washing down a meal with a glass of milk gives your teen calcium, protein and the extra calories her body needs as an athlete.


Snacks can help your teen athlete get through the day. If he has time to grab a quick snack in the morning between classes, provide a banana or whole-wheat crackers topped with peanut butter. In the afternoon, urge your teen athlete to avoid the candy and other junk foods in the school vending machine before practice. According to AskDrSears.com, eating sugar before a sports practice can actually hinder your teen's performance. Instead, give him fresh vegetables dipped in hummus for protein, or Greek yogurt with granola.

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About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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