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Easy to Follow Diets for Athletic Teens

by A. Low

It's no secret that the best diet for a teenager (or any person, for that matter) is a balanced one. For an athletic teenager, this means getting between 2,000 and 5,000 calories a day, while including carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals in his meals. If your teenager is working to lose fat, he may be tempted to cut out certain foods from his diet -- but it's better to focus on reducing calories than certain food groups, and then only with the go-ahead from your teen's doctor. With a balanced diet, your teen will look, feel and perform his best at athletic competitions.

Protein-Rich Diets

You and your child may believe that eating mostly protein is the best way to build muscle -- but this isn't exactly true. Athletic teens need lean protein to repair muscle damage, so include lean beef, chicken, fish, milk products and beans in your teen's diet. But protein shouldn't replace other food groups as it does in the Atkins diet or certain liquid diets. And it's better to eat protein and fat after a workout rather than before, because these nutrients digest slowly and may deplete your teen's energy. To determine exactly how much protein is best for your teen's body type, visit MyPyramid.gov.

Carbohydrate-Rich Diets

Carbs are easily accessed and burned for energy, so your teen's diet should be comprised mostly of carbs like cereal, pasta, fruits, vegetables, bread and whole grains. While some adults practice carbohydrate loading (filling up on carbs days before an event in order to store glycogen for energy), according to the University of Illinois this behavior is really only beneficial to mature athletes. Most high school events are too short to require an extreme buildup of glycogen. However, if your teen runs marathons or does other extreme endurance activities, she can do a modified version of adult carbo-loading by reducing physical activity and moderately increasing intake of starchy foods 24 to 48 hours before an event.

Fluid Intake and Sports Drinks

The jury's still out on whether sports and energy drinks are truly beneficial to one's health. Sipping on a sports drink during a very long workout may be helpful, according to KidsHealth.org, but drinking water instead (eight to 10 ounces 15 minutes before a workout, and the same amount every 10 minutes during) is just as beneficial. If your teen does want to use sports beverages, choose those with less than eight percent total solids like sugar and electrolytes to avoid dehydration. Avoid liquid diets at all costs -- these are far too low in calories, and they're never sustainable in the long run.

Warning About "Easy" Restrictive Diets

It's best for your teen not to get involved with extremely restrictive diets. Doing juice cleanses or diets that require you to only eat specific foods (cabbage, for example) may be easy to follow, but they may lead to severe glycogen and water loss -- which negatively impacts a teen athlete's strength and endurance. Starvation and dehydration can stop a teen's muscles from growing. Keep in mind, too, that humans absorb nutrients the most efficiently when they come from food, not supplements. So unless your doctor recommends your teen take specific vitamins, it's far better to get nutrients from food.

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