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Nutrition for the Teen-age Female Athlete


Nutrition For the Teen-age Female Athlete

Sound nutrition is the first step in creating a successful athlete.  Nutrition becomes doubly important when the athlete is a teenager who requires nutrients both for growth and for strenuous athletic training.

            A rigorous training program will put significant demands on your body.  Below are some basic guidelines to help you fuel your training efforts.

  1. FLUID balance is extremely important in sports.  Loss of as little as 1-3% of the body’s water will noticeably reduce performance and endurance. 

-         Drink plain water before your workout.

-         Drink water or a dilute sugared beverage during your workout.

-         Replace your body’s fluids and carbohydrates quickly after exercise by drinking juice, sports drinks, non-caffeinated sweetened drinks.  Better yet (if your stomach will tolerate it), drink water and a glass of 1% milk and have some fruit and whole grain cereal or crackers.  After a heavy workout, you will want to drink several glasses of water, milk and juice over a period of a few hours.  You may lose 3 to 6 pounds of water (one pound = 2 cups of water), if you are really pushing yourself and this will need to be replaced if you are to be at your best for the next day’s training.

    2.   CALORIES are the fuel that allows your body to function.  Too few calories will leave you with no energy and you will be unable to workout as you should.  Too many calories will leave you sluggish and unable to workout as you should.

-         When you are not training, your calories should be 60% carbohydrates, 25% fats and 15% protein.  When training, the distribution should shift to 50 to 55% carbohydrate, 25% fat and 20 to 25% protein.

-         To determine the percentage of these major nutrients in a packaged food, look at food labels.  The percentage of fat can be determined by multiplying the “Calories from Fat” by 100 and then dividing by the “Total Calories per serving”.  The percentage of protein can be determined by multiplying the Grams of Protein by 450 and then dividing by “Total Calories per serving”.  The percentage of carbohydrates can be determined by multiplying Grams of Carbohydrate by 450 and then dividing by “Total Calories per serving”. 

-         These percentages refer to your overall food intake for the day.  Combining a couple of high carbohydrate foods with a high protein or moderate fat food will balance out your intake. 


3.      PROTEINS are the building blocks of the body.  No matter how hard you workout, if you don’t provide your body with enough protein, you will not reach the peak of your athletic conditioning.  On the other hand, too much protein will also work against you by increasing your risk of dehydration.

-         A teen-age athlete requires about 0.9 grams of protein per pound.  Therefore, a 120-pound girl will need about 108 grams of protein per day and a 150-pound girl will need about 135 grams.

-         You need protein everyday.  An excess on one day will not make up for too little the next day.  Be sure to meet the recommended amount each day.

-         Meats, eggs, dairy products and soy products are the best sources of protein.  If you are a vegetarian, you must have a good knowledge of complementary proteins in order to assure that you are getting the right balance of proteins in your diet.  If you are a vegan, you will have to be doubly aware of how to complement proteins and of the protein content of various foods.

-         The general rule for protein intake is that 3-4 servings of dairy products and 2-3 servings of meat, chicken, fish (4 oz. serving), and a variety of healthy high carbohydrate foods (cereal, whole grain breads, moderate fat muffins) and healthy snacks will assure you the proper amount.


4.      FATS are a very important part of the athlete’s diet.  The body needs a variety of fats in order to stay healthy.  We hear so much about the bad side of fat, that we often overlook to good side.  Without fats, the body cannot build cells, make hormones or properly control hunger.  It is important to remember that the average American probably consumes 40 to 50% of their calories as fat.  A low fat diet, appropriate for an athlete, is one where 25 to 30% of calories come from fat.  Even an extremely low fat diet (like the kind a person who has suffered a heart attack might have to go on with a doctor’s supervision) contains 18 to 22% fat. 

-         Don’t be afraid of any one kind of fat.  The ideal diet will balance fats from animal and vegetable sources.  Fish such as salmon or tuna, olive oil, and nuts all provide important essential fatty acids that help to keep you healthy.

-         Do avoid or severely limit high-fat, empty calorie foods such as chips (substitute crackers with a 25-30% fat content), pies and buttery cookies (substitute fruits and cookies with a 25-30% fat content), ice cream (substitute ice milk, Fudgesicles, ice pops or frozen bananas), French fries (have a salad or bread instead).

-         Complement high fat foods with high carbohydrate foods.  For example, always have peanut butter with two pieces of bread.  Never order a McDonalds double cheeseburger – instead, have 2 regular cheeseburgers (and skip the fries).  Instead of having 3 pieces of pizza, try having one or two pieces and some Italian bread. 


5.      CARBOHYDRATES are the main source of fuel for the muscles and the brain.  They should be the mainstay of your diet.  Be sure your diet contains the right amount of protein and fats, then fill in the rest with carbohydrates such as pastas, breads, cereals, potatoes, grains, crackers, vegetables and fruits.  Ideally your breads, crackers and cereals should be whole grain varieties which contain more fiber and a wider variety of nutrients than products made of highly processed flours.

-         Sugars are simple carbohydrates.  They are rapidly digested and absorbed by the body and therefore are valuable to the athlete during workouts and games.  But too many sugars upset the balance of the body, making it difficult to regulate blood sugar and control appetite.  Candies, desserts and other high sugar foods (including all those “low fat” and “fat-free” snacks that you find in the store) are filled with empty calories that offer you no valuable nutrients.  You should choose fruit or healthy sweets such as whole-grain cookies whenever possible if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Sugary drinks and juices are fine for rehydrating during and after sports, but they should be limited at other times.  Each soda or juice is 150 calories of sugar with little or no other nutrients (orange juice is the exception to this rule).

-         Complex carbohydrates include cereals, grains, potatoes, pasta, corn.  They are more slowly digested and absorbed by the body, and therefore help the body to regulate blood sugar and control appetite.  Every meal and snack should contain complex carbohydrates.


6.      VITAMINS & MINERALS are vital to health and athletic performance.  If  you are conscientious about your diet and eat a wide variety of wholesome, minimally processed foods, you can get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from your diet.  But it you are a picky eater, can’t stand vegetables, won’t touch whole wheat, etc., you may be a candidate for a vitamin and mineral supplement to help fill in the gaps.  (Centrum has a good balance of the different nutrients, though more advanced formulas are available which assure better absorption).  If you won’t or can’t consume dairy products, you may need a calcium supplement.  Iron deficiency is a serious problem for the teen-age female athlete.   If you do not eat red meat two or three times a week, you may need a vitamin and mineral supplement with iron to assure that you get the iron you need for optimum endurance and performance.


Remember that in sports, the saying “You are what you eat” always holds true.  You cannot be your best if you don’t pay careful attention to your nutrition.



A good guide to sports nutrition is Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 2nd Edition, by Nancy Clark, Published by Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL


Prepared by Carolyn C. Cramoy, M. S..  This information may be copied and distributed for educational purposes if the NutritionAtHome.com logo is displayed on the first page and/or NutritionAtHome.com is clearly cited as the source.

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Last modified: March 25, 2003