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Sports Nutrition for Your High School Athlete

High school is a critical stage in a teen’s life, especially so for athletes. During this period of rapid physical growth, studies become tougher and sports more challenging. The physical commitment required to stay on top of the game entails daily practices, weight-training workouts, and one or more competitions a week, which places a great demand on the body. Inadequate nutrition leads to exhaustion, and inability to concentrate either on studies or on sports.

An analysis of high school sports nutrition information reveals that a typical high school male requires around 2,400 calories daily, and an average high school female needs around 1700 calories a day. Male high school athletes require an additional 900 calories and female high school athletes require an additional 750 calories to meet their enhanced energy requirements. The lion’s share of this energy comes from carbohydrates and proteins, with the former ideally contributing 75 percent of the energy source and the latter 25 percent.

Players should learn the best time to eat based on the activities they will engage in. For athletes, eating a small snack (100 calories) is a good idea about 30 minutes to 1 hour before activity. Larger snacks (200-300 calories), or meals (400+ calories), should be eaten farther out before activity. Larger snacks should be eaten two hours before activity and meals three hours before activity.

This allows the body to process food properly and reduces the risk of illness or negative effects, such as cramps, of unprocessed food. By eating at the proper times before exercise, players ensure that they are fueling their body appropriately for the work they will be doing.

After exercising, players should eat again within 90 minutes of activity.

Now that you can educate players on when to eat, you also must know how to tell them what to eat. Before exercise, players need nutrition that is going to keep them full for a long time while providing them complex sugars to give them energy. Examples of good foods to provide complex sugars and slow breakdown are:

· Fruit 
· Whole grains 
· Energy bar 
· Nutritional drink 
· Low-fat yogurt

These foods provide carbohydrates, which increase the amount of stored energy in the athlete’s muscles. Dairy products, such as low-fat milk or yogurt, break down slowly, releasing energy throughout the workout. This provides long-term power in a low-fat formula. Whole grains offer a similar benefit.

At the end of a practice, players should eat again, as discussed above. To promote the energy being stored as fuel for muscles and not as fat, players should eat a mix of carbohydrates and protein. Protein is necessary to rebuild muscles and promote quick recovery. Carbohydrates provide long energy and should make up the majority of the food eaten after exercise.

Protein should make up about 1/5 of the calories consumed after exercise. Athletes should consume between 300 and 400 calories within an hour of working out. Examples of good food choices for this period include:

· A bagel and 3 ounces of tuna fish > A banana and a protein shake.

Here is a break down of the types of foods that should be found in your young athlete’s diet:


Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for any athlete, and more so for growing up high school athletes. Unlike adults, high school athletes have only a limited amount of glycogen or stored up carbs, and as such need to replenish their energy reserves on a daily or even meal-by-meal basis.

Full-blown carbohydrate loading is however not in the interest of the young athlete’s health, and a better alternative is eating more starchy food to increase carbohydrate absorption by the blood, and reducing exercises during the last twenty-four hours before the event to conserve the stored up energy. Consumption of a carbohydrate-loaded meal two to three hours prior to the event boosts energy rserves for the event, and another carbohydrate meal after the event aids prompt recovery. The optimal post-exercise meal needs to contain 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per lb body weight.

Carbohydrate based nutrition for athletes come from fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, tangerines, berries, and melons, vegetables such as carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, corn, and peas, and grains such as cereals, oatmeal, and brown rice.


Protein foods provide the high school athlete with not just energy, but also amino acids, the building blocks of the much needed muscle tissues. Protein foods are also a good source of iron that increases the body’s ability to absorb the consumed nutrients.

Healthy protein sources include lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, beans, and tofu. Diary foods such as low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream also make good protein sources, in addition to providing essential minerals such as calcium and Vitamin D, indispensable to provide bone strength to growing high school athletes.


Carbohydrates and proteins apart, fat is also a major source of energy for the high school athlete. The athlete’s body however uses stored up fat mostly for low-intensity activities, and fat reserves are not adequate for the high intensity events that athletes partake. Consumption of fat is nevertheless essential to expand the athlete’s energy reserves.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the two types of healthy fats. Salmon and other fish, nuts, avocados, vegetable oils, and a variety of plants are rich in such monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Trans-fat found in most restaurant-fried foods has a long-term adverse impact on the heart and as such needs avoidance.


The single most critical component in sports nutrition is remaining hydrated. Body muscles generate heat during exercise, and sweat, composed of water and dissolved minerals such as sodium cools off this heat. Athletes tend to sweat excessively, and failure to replenish the sweated up water and minerals means the body cannot cool itself, resulting in dehydration, which in turn causes fatigue, heatstroke, and even death.

All athletes, especially high school athletes need to stay hydrated and constantly drink water without waiting to be thirsty, for thirst is a symptom of dehydration.

The optimal quantity of fluid intake varies, but as a thumb rule, a high school athlete needs to consume 14–20 ounces (400–600 ml) of fluid, and another 8 oz (240 ml) if conditions are hot or humid. Cool water is a good fluid option, but during events, sport drinks containing sodium and carbohydrates constitute a better option for they increase the rate of retention of the fluids by the body. An effective sports drink limits solids such as sugar and electrolytes to less that 8 percent, and eliminates fructose, to ensure speedy absorption of the fluid by the athlete’s body.

Contributors: Elise Jackson, American Coaching Academy; http://www.brighthub.com/health/

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