When it comes to feeding youth athletes, many parents are left wondering the questions “Am I feeding them enough”, or “Is this the right food for them?”
Nutrition in general can be an absolute minefield of information with new diets and trends emerging almost daily telling us about the latest ‘super foods’ or what foods should be avoided. Throw in the added demands of trying to fuel a growing teenager who’s training 5 days of the week and is either always hungry or has picky eating habits, and it’s no wonder parents are left confused.
But don’t fear, we’re here to help with a whistle stop tour of sports nutrition and to explain how it might be a little different to what you’re used to eating or being told to eat.
The most important thing to remember is that healthy eating for a teenage athlete is going to be very different to a working parent! And very different even to a teen of the same age who doesn’t play regular sport for that matter. Context is key when it comes to nutrition, what might be right for you might not necessarily be right for your athlete.
How Many Calories Do Youth Athletes Need?
Calories for youth athletes is the most common topic we get asked about! While it’s impossible to say for certain how many calories teen athletes need, it’s certainly going to be a lot! How many calories the body uses each day will depend on a number of things like height, weight, activity level, sports played etc. This means that the number of calories the body needs to get from food and drink will vary from person to person too. What makes it even more complicated is that it will be different each day depending on training schedules!
What is for certain though, is that young athletes will need to eat a lot more than their parents (unless you train regularly too). Recent research has found that male academy footballers  and distance runners  expend more than 3500 calories per day and female swimmers training twice per day required 5500 calories per day .
So, with that in mind, don’t be afraid to pile up their plates at dinner or get them eating nutritious snacks every few hours! For more information on calories and youth athletes, take a look at this blog we wrote a while back.
Is Sugar Ok for Youth Athletes?
One of the biggest shocks we find the parents who work with us often have is that we often recommend snacks that are high in sugar! While it’s certainly important that the bulk of teen athletes diets is made up of healthy and nutritious foods, there’s certainly a place for those foods that are often demonised.
Not only is it really important that any diet contains food we actually enjoy, but sugary sweets and bars can offer the perfect fuel source for training sessions (Read here to find out how). Simply put, sugar is a carbohydrate that can be broken down by the body very quickly and so it’s energy can be used very quickly. This is ideal if athletes need a quick boost before, during or after a training session.
On the same sorts of lines, the ‘healthy alternative’ products that a lot of us choose in our weekly shops aren’t always the best for youth athletes either. Being mindful of simple sugar and saturated fat intake is certainly wise, but the full sugar and full fat alternatives still have their place too, especially if you’re trying to increase overall energy intake or looking to fuel a long and hard training session.
Balance is the key to this one and recognising the times where full fat or sugar options might be the best (intense training days), and the times where the healthier alternatives are superior (rest days).
Remember: there’s no one size fits all approach to good nutrition.
If you’re still struggling to navigate the world of sports nutrition then get in touch with our nutrition team who can offer tailored advice and services to support you and your youth athlete. For more information on our 1-1 nutrition coaching and to book in a call click here.
- Hannon MP, Parker LJF, Carney DJ, McKeown J, Speakman JR, Hambly C, Drust B, Unnithan VB, Close GL, Morton JP. Energy Requirements of Male Academy Soccer Players from the English Premier League. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2021 Jan;53(1):200-210. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002443. PMID: 32701871.
- Eisenmann, Joey C.; Wickel, Eric E. (2007). Estimated Energy Expenditure and Physical Activity Patterns of Adolescent Distance Runners. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 17(2), 178–188. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.17.2.178
- Trappe TA, Gastaldelli A, Jozsi AC, Troup JP, Wolfe RR. Energy expenditure of swimmers during high volume training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1997 Jul;29(7):950-954. DOI: 10.1097/00005768-199707000-00015. PMID: 9243495.