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Nutritional Planning for Your High School Athlete

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jun 1, 2019 10:30:00 AM

If you are the parent of a high school student, then you likely know how ravenous they can be at times. While they may want to go straight for a bag of potato chips or bottle of soda, proper nutrition is invaluable to their growth and performance as an athlete. Ensuring a proper balance of nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats) is essential to overall health, muscle development and performance. To make sure your athlete is getting the nutrition that they need, proper planning is key.


The quality and quantity of the food you consume is important. The metabolic requirements for active teens can be as high as 3,500 calories a day, for example, which means a body requires this amount of calories to function properly. Also, the less processed the food, the more nutritious it is.


Carbohydrates provide our main source of energy (they are the body’s preferred source of energy) and are found in unrefined whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. They are also good sources of fiber (the indigestible portion of our diet that helps with the absorption of nutrients into the body), vitamins and minerals, and are essential for optimal health.

Nature provides many sources of good carbohydrates:

  • Organic fruits and vegetables
  • Beans and lentils (also known as legumes)
  • Unrefined whole grains (some examples include 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, unprocessed oatmeal such as steel-cut oats, and barley).
Foods that are high in refined (highly processed) carbohydrates or sugars should be avoided, as they do not provide the body with optimal nutrition and over time can lead to excess fat storage, low energy levels, muscle loss, and increased risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease as you age.

Strive to increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables (eating twice as many vegetables as fruits daily is recommended), whole grains and legumes, which will give your body the energy it needs for optimal health and athletic performance.


Protein is a key component of muscle, skin, hair, and other tissues of the body. You also need protein to manufacture the enzymes and hormones that are involved in digestion, metabolism (how your body produces energy from the food you eat), tissue growth and repair, which is why protein should be added to every meal. Good sources of protein include:

  • Lean meats (beef, chicken, pork, lamb and fish) 
  • Organic dairy products (such as cheese and plain yogurt)
  • Raw nuts (avoid peanuts)
  • Natural nut butters (peanut and almond butter)
  • Fermented soy products (such as miso, tamari and tempeh Legumes (beans, peas and lentils)


Fats are needed for your body to function properly. Besides being an energy source, fat is used in the protection of cell membranes and helps regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood clotting and the nervous system (especially important with proper brain functioning). Fats also help maintain healthy hair and nails, and carry fat-soluble vitamins from the food you eat into your body.

There are two types of healthy fats:

  • Saturated (usually from animal fats such as butter and cheese)
  • Unsaturated (from raw nuts, seeds, fish and plant oils)

Good sources of healthy fats include avocados, cold water fish (tuna, salmon, and mackerel), raw nuts (except peanuts), nut butters, seeds, and cooking oils (Coconut, Olive, Safflower and Sesame Oil). 


Water is also essential to proper body function. It helps regulate and maintain body temperature, transports nutrients and oxygen to the bloodstream, removes waste products (toxins), and helps maintain proper fluid balance and muscle functioning, especially crucial during times of strenuous activity such as sporting events. It’s important to drink water throughout the day, but especially before, during, and after periods of extended physical activity to avoid dehydration, which can zap strength, energy and coordination, and lead to other health problems and injuries.

Experts recommend that young athletes drink approximately 1 cup (240 milliliters) of water for every 20-30 minutes of physical activity. Shorter competitions may not require drinking during the activity, but it’s important to drink afterwards to restore fluid lost through sweat. 

Game Day

It’s important to eat well on game days, but you should eat at least 2 hours before the event — early enough to digest the food before game time. After the game or event, have a well-balanced meal. Your body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and restoring carbs and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition, so it’s important that you get plenty of protein, fat, and carbs in the postgame hours.

It's important that your high school athlete gets adequate nutrition so that they can perform to the best of their ability. 

For care of your student-athlete, contact the Johnson Memorial Health Orthopedic Specialists for an evaluation.

Topics: Nutrition