The teenage years are a time when many take their health into their own hands and decide to start lifting weights in the attempt to gain a muscular physique. As important as training is, diet matters just as much, and even the best training plan in the world won't do much without the correct diet. Teens need to focus on a healthy approach to nutrition, meeting all their nutrient requirements, while also eating enough to grow new muscle tissue.
Increased Calorie Needs
To build muscle, you need a surplus of calories. Teenagers already have elevated calorie needs, with the average active 14- to 18-year-old female needing around 2,400 calories per day to maintain her weight and her male counterpart needing 2,800 to 3,200 per day. To create a calorie surplus and gain mass, you'll need more than this -- around 500 to 600 more on training days, according to personal trainer JC Deen. Therefore, teenage boys should aim for between 3,300 and 3,800 calories on training days. Females gain muscle more slowly, adds Deen, so a 300- to 400-calorie surplus on training days is adequate.
Loading Up on Carbs
While protein often takes the limelight in terms of building muscle, carbohydrates have a crucial role to play as they provide energy for training and aid recovery. Carbs should constitute around 60 percent of your diet, and the majority should come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as bread, pasta, cereal and rice and even a few sweets, according to sports dietitian Sharon Howard.
Get Your Protein and Fats
The rest of your calories should come from a mix of protein and fat. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle, while you need fat for hormone production to help build muscle. Most teen athletes needs 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day, according to Howard. Your proteins should mainly be lean, such as grilled meat and fish, low-fat dairy or beans, while the best fats include nuts, olive oil and avocado. Other good high-protein snacks include peanut butter, cheese, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs and nuts. Above all, it's important to get variety and not focus on just one or two types of food.
Manipulating for Muscle Gain
Aim to gain 2 to 3 pounds per month. If you're not growing and building muscle, you need to eat more calories, so up your intake by around 100 per day. Alongside your muscle-building diet, you also need an effective training plan. If you're new to weights, strength coaches Scott Riewald and Keith Cinea recommend starting out with body weight exercises such squats, pushups, pull-ups, dips, lunges and back extensions, each for just one set of 15. As you get stronger and more confident under the guidance of a coach, start including free-weight moves such as barbell squats and deadlifts, bench presses and rows and aim for three sets of six to 15 reps, hitting each muscle group three times per week.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- JCD Fitness: The Perfect Caloric Surplus
- JCD Fitness: The Muscle Building Guide for Women
- Teens Health: A Guide to Eating for Sports
- Palo Alto Medical Foundation: Sports Nutrition
- Creighton Prep: Strength Training for Young Athletes
- ESPN Training Room: Dietary Needs of Young Athletes