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Ready, Set, Go: Healthy Eating for Active Teens

Ready, Set, Go: Healthy Eating for Active Teens

Do you participate in school sports, take dance classes, walk to class or get your 60 minutes of daily physical activity through biking, swimming or other fun-filled activities? Whatever “moves” you, eating smart is your best fuel for action, brainpower, daily maintenance and growth.

Fueling for Growth and Sports!

Planning your food choices helps you stay healthy and at a healthy weight.

  • Start with the food groups. Your body needs lots of different nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. As fuel for fitness, eat enough variety from the four food groups (Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives and Meat and Alternatives) in the right amounts to match your energy needs.
  • Snack sensibly. Choose most snacks from the four food groups. Try whole-grain crackers, cheese, veggies, fruit or nuts. Read the Nutrition Facts table on food labels and go easy on snacks high in fat and added sugars.
  • Make your beverages count. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk with meals. If you drink juice, opt for one cup of unsweetened 100% fruit juice per day. Milk and juice supply important nutrients. When you’re thirsty, drink water. Try to save pop for a special treat as sugary sodas may otherwise replace more nutritious beverages or foods.

Visit for tips on food and beverage choices.

Eating for peak performance for athletic events

  • Before you get moving: Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal with lean protein and lots of fluids 2 to 4 hours before vigorous activity. It’ll be easier to digest and help power your muscles. Eat until you’re satisfied, but not too full. If you need a little snack later, try toast or crackers with lean protein (like cheese or peanut butter) about 1-2 hours before your event. Prepare by drinking enough fluids, too. Drink at least 2 cups of water about 2 to 3 hours ahead. Then drink 2 cups of water 15 minutes or less before your activity.
  • While you’re in action: Most important is to drink enough fluids: 1/2 cup of water (or a sports drink) every 15 minutes to avoid dehydration, muscle cramps or heat exhaustion. You probably don’t need to eat during the activity, unless it lasts longer than an hour. Then a carbohydrate-rich food such as a cereal bar or banana can provide needed energy.
  • When you’re done: Drink plenty of fluids to replace what you lose through sweat. Water, and unsweetened 100% fruit juice are all okay, but skip carbonated beverages. As soon as possible, enjoy a carbohydrate-rich meal with some lean protein and unsaturated fats. This is especially important if you plan to be active again the next day.

Eating myths, facts and smart moves

Nutrition myths and misinformation abound. Use the following healthy strategies to plan your nutrition approach.

  • Bulk up with exercise. Loading up on protein foods or protein drinks won’t build your muscles. Healthy food choices supply all the protein you need. To build muscles, you need to work them. As you build muscles, nutrient-dense carbohydrates are your best fuel.
  • Be smart about competitive weight goals. Your competition weight should be based on your growth stage. If you’re a wrestler, gymnast or dancer, compete or perform at a weight that’s healthy for you. Manage your weight everyday, not just a few days before the competition. Trying to crash diet, fast or sweat off weight isn’t healthy, and may cause dehydration and fatigue, which affect your performance.
  • Don’t load up on carbs. Carbohydrate loading (where athletes store extra carbohydrates in their bodies) isn’t recommended for teenagers. A better idea is to eat a low-fat, high-carbohydrate meal a few hours before vigorous exercising. Remember, athletes who work out hard every day need to eat a few extra carbs every day (because they need more fuel).
  • Eat smart, forget fads. Unproven, supposedly effortless ways to build strength or reach your target weight aren’t effective and may be harmful. Steer clear of trendy diets, even if celebrities or friends suggest them.
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