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The Power of Proper Nutrition: Maximising Growth and Athletic Performance in Teenagers

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The Power of Proper Nutrition: Maximising Growth and Athletic Performance in Teenagers

Nutrition is an essential aspect of a teenager's growth and development, particularly for young athletes. Adequate nutrition is crucial to ensure that they have enough energy to meet the demands of their physical activities, support healthy growth and development, and improve their performance.

Increasing Protein and Calories

During adolescence, teenagers experience significant growth spurts that require adequate amounts of protein and calories to support healthy growth and development. Protein is essential for building and repairs tissues, while calories provide energy to support physical activities. Parents of youth athletes should ensure that their child's diet includes sufficient amounts of high-quality protein sources such as lean meats, eggs, dairy products, and plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, and tofu. They should also encourage their child to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.

Accounting for All Stressors

Teens face a wide range of stressors, including physical, mental, academic and social stressors. These stressors can impact their appetite, digestion, and overall nutritional status. Parents of youth athletes should help their child manage stress by encouraging healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, mindfulness and social support. They should also be mindful of the impact of stress on their child's nutrition and adjust their diet accordingly. For example, if their child is experiencing stress-related digestive issues, they may need to adjust their diet to include more easily digestible foods like smoothies, soups and stews.

Utilising the 80/20 Rule

Creating healthy eating habits from a young age is crucial to support healthy growth and development in teens. Parents of youth athletes should encourage their child to follow the 80/20 rule, where 80% of their diet consists of healthy, nutrient-dense foods and the 20% an be reserved for treats and indulgences. This approach helps to create a balanced, sustainable approach to healthy eating and allows for flexibility and variety in their diet.

Case Studies

At Inner Athlete we've utilised diet adjustments with a few of our athletes to best reflect the different stages of season or their own personal development. With one of our lifesaving athletes who was attending a 2 week training camp, consuming extra calories at night was a strategy we chose to ensure they were recovering properly from the training. This consisted of eating pancakes and ice cream after dinner, a good option for increasing total calories in a day. The athlete said they were able to get through the week with limited fatigue as the camp went on, and it gave them something to look forward to at the end of each day.

With a swimming athlete who had just joined us, we analysed their food diary and found that they were eating a very healthy and balanced diet, but were lacking protein throughout the day and only really ate large amounts with dinner. A simple fix was to eat some yoghurt and honey before swimming in the morning, tuna for recess and a chicken salad sandwich for lunch. By doing this they were easily able to adjust without a total overhaul of their normal eating habits. As a result of those changes, the athlete said they were able to recover better from training and continue to increase the weights in the gym.

The Final Word

Adequate nutrition is critical for a teenager's growth and development, particularly for young athletes. Parents of youth athletes can support their child's nutrition by increasing their intake of protein and calories, accounting for all stressors and utilising the 80/20 rule to create healthy eating habits from a young age. By prioritising nutrition, parents can help their child reach their full potential in their athletic pursuits and beyond.

For more information on strength and conditioning for youth athletes and increasing your sports performance, check out our website and podcast (also available on Spotify and YouTube!).

Matt Hucul
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Inner Athlete - Bayside's premium strength and conditioning coaching for youth athletes

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