Photo courtesy of Audra Wilson

Marina Makropoulos, Online News Editor

This interview was conducted via email by Marina Makropoulos.


Q: What does a healthy day of eating look like for a teen athlete?

“Each meal should contain a balance of all of the macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat. It is important to remember that carbs are our energy source for aerobic activity, so including them in every meal throughout the day is important for fueling. In season and for heavy training days, half of your plate should be carbohydrates like whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice or vegetables like potatoes, corn and beans. Look for lean proteins like white meat chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, lean beef and pork as well as tofu or other soy-based options. Include vegetables to round out your plate, and add lots of nutrients and antioxidants which are important for athletes.”

Q: What are the proper nutrients that teen athletes should be getting daily?

“You need them all! A varied diet with lots of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains should provide you with all of the nutrients you need each day. Athletes, especially female athletes, need to make sure they are getting enough iron and calcium. Iron from animal sources like meat is more readily absorbed than plant sources, so if you are relying on plant sources, you will need to eat a larger volume of these foods. Calcium comes from dairy and some plant sources. Again, animal sources are more readily absorbed than plant sources like broccoli. Three glasses of milk will give you all of the calcium you need.”

Q: What do those proper nutrients do for our bodies?

“Iron brings oxygen to muscles, so [it] is very important to athletes. Female athletes lose blood every month, so keeping iron levels stable is even more important. Calcium builds bone health. You only build up bone density until about the age of 30, so teen years and during your 20s are the last chance you will have to build strong bones. After about age 30, bone density is either maintained or can diminish over time, leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis.”

Q: How much protein should a teen athlete be consuming?

“That number is dependent on your sport and several other factors. The most important thing to remember is to spread protein out in 20-40 grams doses throughout the day and to not forget your other macronutrients. A balanced diet is best to fuel an athlete.”

Q: Are protein supplements like shakes or bars necessary?

“Protein bars may be high in sugar or saturated fat, so they aren’t recommended to use regularly. Relying on whole foods can be just as easy as grabbing a protein bar, and [can be] more nutritious. The average protein bar has about 15 grams of protein. You could get about that same amount for 2.5 ounces of lunch meat, two cheese sticks or a Greek yogurt. Protein shakes or powders can be a great option if you are having trouble getting enough protein from foods and can supplement an extra 20-40 grams in the day. Protein shakes are particularly useful for post-workout recovery.”

Q: Why is it important for teen athletes to eat breakfast?

“Breakfast sets you up for a healthy day and literally breaks the fast your body is on overnight. Remember, you need to feed your muscles to keep them. Teen athletes have high calorie needs at baseline, and if you aren’t getting enough nutrition — especially protein — from foods, your body will begin to cannibalize your muscles. This is the last thing you need when you are working so hard to build and maintain muscle! If you aren’t typically a breakfast eater, this would be a great place to use a protein shake. A protein shake combined with some frozen fruit in a blender would be a perfect smoothie breakfast that is quick and full of nutrition.”