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High School Athletes & Nutrition

author image Diane Lynn
Diane Lynn began writing in 1998 as a guest columnist for the "Tallahassee Democrat." After losing 158 pounds, she wrote her own weight-loss curriculum and now teaches classes on diet and fitness. Lynn also writes for The Oz Blog and her own blog, Fit to the Finish. She has a Bachelor of Science in finance from Florida State University.
High School Athletes & Nutrition
A teenage athlete. Photo Credit: Barry Austin/Photodisc/Getty Images

Participating in high school athletics programs can help you develop muscular strength, keep your weight under control and give you confidence in your athletic abilities. Both male and female high school athletes are still growing, and eating the right balance of nutrients when participating in sports can influence both your athletic performance and growth patterns. Whether you participate in year-round athletic events or have a seasonal sport, proper nutrition can help you stay healthy and strong.

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Nutritional Requirements

Teens need more calories than adults because of their faster metabolic and growth rates. A teen athlete burns even more calories than a sedentary teen and thus needs more calories. A male teen athlete may need 2,000 calories more a day than a non-athlete the same age, according to a publication from the University of Illinois. An athlete needs the right balance of protein, healthier fats and carbohydrates. In general, a teen needs between 55 to 60 of calories from healthy carbohydrates, about 15 percent of calories from lean proteins and up to 30 percent of total caloric intake from healthy fats. Heather Hendrick Fink, a registered dietitian and co-author of the book “Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition,” indicates that both male and female athletes should eat at least 1,300 mg of calcium a day to ensure proper bone development, and female athletes should ask their doctors if they need additional iron.


High school athletes do not need a high-protein diet but do need high-quality protein. Protein plays a vital role in muscle development and health, tissue repair, wound healing and hormone regulation. Nancy Clark, R.D., in her book “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook,” recommends that an athlete who is still growing eat between 0.6 to 0.9 g of protein for each pound of body weight. A 160-lb. female could eat 96 to 144 g of protein, and a 220-lb. male could have between 132 and 198 g of protein a day. Avoid high-fat protein found in fried fast food burgers and instead focus on grilled lean beef or chicken, eggs, seafood, seeds, and nuts and nut butters.

Carbohydrate Choices

Carbohydrates fuel high school athletes during both school hours and difficult practice sessions. Complex carbohydrates give longer lasting energy, but simple carbohydrates give high school endurance athletes a boost during long events or practices. Young athletes should eat healthy oats or cereals for breakfast, sandwiches on whole-wheat bread rather than white bread or buns, raw fruits and vegetables and whole-wheat crackers to ensure adequate carbohydrate intake.

Healthy Fats

Teen athletes burn calories while working out or competing and need healthy fats to help them sustain themselves during athletic events. Unhealthy fats such as the saturated fats found in many fried or processed foods may eventually contribute to a teen's developing heart disease as she ages. Better fat choices include unsaturated fats found in canola or olive oil, avocados, nuts, peanut butter and cold water fish such as herring, salmon and cod.


Staying well-hydrated is important for high school athletes because children are at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated than adults, according to the “National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” Drink fluids throughout the day and regularly throughout workouts and competitive events. Eat both protein and carbohydrates several hours before sporting competitions to allow your meal to digest and eat a small snack of fruit, fat-free yogurt or a piece of whole-grain toast closer to your event time to avoid feeling hungry and to give yourself energy.

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