Diet plan for teenage football players is not a new concept. In fact, professional teams the world over offer dietary programs for their teenage players. This is because the body needs more calories when training hard and recovering from heavy exercise. However, many people believe that a diet of junk food and fast food is enough to keep teenagers’ weight down and energy up.
Specific nutrient requirements are based on your body size and position. What works for one player may not be the best strategy for someone else. But, all players can benefit from the following guidelines:
Organize the food on your plate into a peace sign. Break your plate into thirds, placing a protein in one-third, a starch [rice, pasta, potato] in a second, and a fruit and/or vegetable in the last.
Consume at least three meals per day with snacks between. Try to eat every four hours. Your daily caloric total should range between 20 to 25 calories per pound of body weight.
Skipping breakfast is not an option, especially when you have early morning practice or lifting. If you’re not overly hungry, try a lighter alternative such as a milkshake, yogurt, cereal or fruit, or even a sports drink and sports bar.
Take breaks to rehydrate. Drink early and often to sustain performance. Consume fluids during training sessions, and follow these guidelines:
- Gulp, don’t sip.
- Swallow fluids; don’t spit.
- Drink, don’t pour on your head.
- Do not over drink. Don’t come to a training session with a gallon jug of water. Consume fluid as the guidelines suggest: 20 oz one hour before; and during, consume based on your sweat rate (see below).
Football is a game of strength, speed and stamina—so you need to eat enough carbohydrate to fuel your muscles and brain during activity. Every meal or snack should contain carbohydrate-rich foods, such as bread, bagels, tortillas, rice, pasta, quinoa, barley, potatoes, corn, fruit, vegetables, juice, crackers and pretzels. Likewise, you should also consume protein for muscle growth and a healthy immune system. Try eggs, jerky, nuts, peanut butter, baked beans, bean dip, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish/shellfish, tofu, low fat milk, yogurt and low fat cheeses. You can measure your daily protein intake using the following formulas:
Minimum grams: 0.6 x bodyweight [pounds] Maximum grams: 0.9 x bodyweight [pounds]
Nutrition and sports performance: What young athletes should eat to perform their best
How eating a healthy, balanced diet may boost athletic performance
Many families already know the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet. But if your child or teen is an athlete performing at a high level on a regular basis, you may have additional concerns about their nutrition and dietary needs.
Get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about what young athletes should eat to power their performance.
Is there a recommended diet for young athletes
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan when it comes to nutrition. Individual nutrient needs vary by sport, type, and intensity of the activity, age, body size, goals and training volume. Generally speaking, the more intense the activity and the more hours you train, the higher your carbohydrate and overall calorie needs will be.
Meeting with a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) for a personalized consultation is the best way for young athletes to determine their specific, appropriate amount of calories and nutrients to eat each day.
Is there a certain amount of protein that young athletes should be eating each day?
Depending on their goals, training status and type of activity, athletes need anywhere from ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. A sports dietitian is the best resource to help you determine the right amount of protein that your star athlete needs.
As a general rule, young athletes can meet their daily protein needs by making sure to include a source of lean protein such as eggs, milk, yogurt, nuts, nut butter, beans, lentils, tofu, chicken or fish at each meal and snack.
How can eating a healthy diet help athletes lower their risk of injury and perform better?
Eating a healthy diet ensures that an athlete is getting all the nutrients their body needs to produce energy and create new muscle tissue, enzymes and other cellular structures involved in energy metabolism. Proper nutrition can also help repair damage from training as well as everyday wear and tear, and keeps the body’s muscles, bones, joints, tendons and organs functioning optimally.
Tips to ensure young athletes are getting enough nutrients
Young athletes should be eating five or six balanced meals and snacks each day, and should be eating every three hours. Each meal should include a balance of complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fat, fruits and vegetables. Each snack should include a combination of all three macronutrients: complex carbs, lean proteins and healthy fats.
If your athlete has any food allergies or intolerances, work with a registered dietitian to make sure they are appropriately filling any “gaps” in their diet created by eliminating foods or food groups.
Are there certain foods that young athletes should be specifically eating?
The following healthy choices are recommended for young athletes:
- Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates (oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole grain breakfast cereals, sweet potatoes, squash and beans)
- Fruits (2 to 4 servings per day)
- Vegetables (3 to 5 servings per day)
- Lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans/lentils, tofu, eggs, yogurt and milk)
- Healthy fats (nuts, nut butter, seeds, olive oil and avocado)
A teenage metabolism is a well-oiled machine raring to go at all hours of the day, only further compounded by high levels of exercise through sports and extra-curricular activities.
In general, most teenagers need to eat a greater number of calories than their adult counterparts to help support proper growth throughout the maturation process and support high levels of intense activity. However, I must preface this entire article with the understanding that I AM NOT a registered dietician or a nutritionist, and every case is unique when it comes to the individual needs of an athlete.
I do hold my precision nutrition certification and have spent many years coaching teenage athletes, which has led me to the point that I can confidently provide sound nutrition advice, practice, and principles. This is much different from prescribing a specific meal plan to an athlete to treat, diagnose, or solve any issue or conflict they may have.
If an athlete has diabetes, food allergies, need certain supplements prescribed to them, or even wants to know exactly how much they should consume of something down to the last gram, I’m not the guy.
All these things aside, I have laid out what may be a template for a typical high school athlete, to support proper energy levels throughout a full day of school and sports practice.
PROPER NUTRITION FOR HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYERS
Lee Munn grew up in East Texas in a small town called Omaha, population 999. He played great football for the Pewitt High School Brahmas (2A Division II). Nutrition wasn’t always focused on during his playing days as much as it is today.
But as high school graduation approached, no NCAA Division I colleges or universities were making him offers to play, so he planned on attending Baylor University. Then, he received a phone call from a coach at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB), a fairly new Division III program at the time.
He visited the university in central Texas, and immediately fell in love with it. He played four years, the first year on JV and the following three years on varsity.
In his sophomore and junior year, UMHB played in the national championship semifinals.
Among highly talented high school football athletes, Munn’s story is not uncommon. It is far more likely that a high school senior will finish his final season of play and enter the ranks of Division II, Division III, NAIA or Junior College football, than it will be for that same senior to play on a Division I FBS or FCS team.
Today, Munn is defensive coordinator for Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School. Earlier in his career, he also served as strength and conditioning coach for UMHB. He is CSCS certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
Munn says even though many high school seniors go on to play different levels of football after their senior season, they will face a multitude of challenges between that final autumn whistle and the start of summer camp. He says paying attention to nutrition during high school and developing proper habits is critical to success at the higher levels of the game.
FOCUS ON NUTRITION
Though a focus on speed and explosiveness is highly valuable when preparing for a step up to the next level, high school seniors may as well forget about it unless they are eating right.
Lifting right is only one side of the coin. Nutrition is the other.
“Coming out of high school, I was so naïve,” says Munn. “The biggest key is fast food. Athletes need to limit fast food to one cheat meal per week at the most. I see young guys come in here all the time at 17, 18 and 19 years old, and their bodies are getting away with eating all that fast food right now, but eventually, it will wear on them.”
He also sees younger athletes eating more processed food than they should. He says athletes should eat food that is as close to its natural form as possible.
“They have to realize that if it comes in a can or a box, and has a long shelf life, they probably don’t need to be eating it,” says Munn. “If they’re eating stuff that is close to its original form, they are going to be on the right track.”
Following workouts, Munn says it’s important to eat quick, simple carbohydrates in order to replenish glycogen stores in the body. Athletes must combine that with immediate protein to rebuild muscle.
“For quick, simple carbs, protein shakes have a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, perfect for after workouts,” he says. “Chocolate milk is getting a big push right now; it’s a great recovery drink that gives athletes carbs and protein.”
Simple carbs can also be found in fruits, such as apples, oranges and bananas. If athletes are eating simple sugars right after a lift, those sugars will hit the system quick and replenish the glycogen stores athletes lose during a workout.
Young athletes must also be eating small meals every two to three hours during the day, which is a real departure from the classic “three-meals-per-day” mantra. As soon as they wake up, they need to be eating breakfast within 30 minutes. Their next meal needs to come two or three hours later.
“One of the worst things you can do as a high school player is skip breakfast,” says Munn. “Here’s what happens. They skip breakfast and start the day off slow. They may not eat until lunchtime; then they eat a big lunch and become lethargic. Then, they may not eat again until supper. This is followed by a poor-quality, late-night snack.”
If athletes eat every two-to-three hours, they train their bodies to expect more food soon. When the body expects to eat this way, it doesn’t respond with a need to gorge oneself at mealtime. Rather, it focuses on processing the quality, nutritious foods it has received.
“These young guys need to make sure they’re eating the right stuff too,” says Munn. “Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins like chicken, tuna and salmon are all good. They don’t need to be eating donuts for breakfast. “With the juniors and seniors we have at UMHB, we’ve finally got them eating right,” he says. “It is important. During the day, they have to be watering it up. Gatorade and water can replenish carbs and glycogen after a workout. They have to make sure they are eating properly and focusing on hydration. Nutrition is huge. I don’t think high school coaches can stress nutrition enough to their athletes.”
11 Foods every footballer should have in their diet
1. Oily fish
Fish like salmon are full of healthy fats such as Omega 3. Especially effective at reducing inflammation in the body, Omega 3 can help you recover, allowing you to train harder and more regularly.
Some of the other health benefits of oily fish include reductions in anxiety and stress, improve risk factors for heart disease, improve your immune system and improve bone and joint aches. It’s also full of protein which is important to help repair muscle and recover after training.
Eating oily fish twice a week is one of the best ways to ensure optimal Omega 3 intake, but it’s not your only option. Broccoli (more on those mini green-trees of superbness later) and walnuts are also good sources of omega 3.
Spinach is one of the original superfoods. Thanks to it’s effects on everyone’s favourite comic strip sailor Popeye (which may not be entirely accurate), spinach has (rightfully) taken it’s place as one of thee foods to eat for sports performance.
Thanks to it’s richness in iron, spinach has a number of positive effects on the quality of your blood. Off the back of that, spinach will have a significant effect on restoring energy levels and increasing vitality – two important factors on the road to recovery in sport.
Elsewhere, eating leafy greens regularly has been shown to decelerate mental deterioration and improve mental focus. Leafy greens in general are full of those delightful benefits, but kale, Swiss chard and romaine lettuce are all viable alternatives.
Plus, with high levels of iron as well as vitamins A and K which help reduce inflammation, improve bone health and reduce feelings of fatigue, spinach is just a must eat for any performance-conscious footballer.
Milk! According to a small child it’s exactly what legendary Liverpool footballer Ian Rush drinks (YouTube it if you have no idea what I’m referring to there) – and with good reason.
Milk can become a vital part of your recovery; it’s high levels of protein are important to muscle recovery and strengthening. Elsewhere, calcium is vital component to good, strong bones and teeth (not necessarily a sporting bonus…but we all like good teeth). Plus with plenty of carbohydrates, milk could become a part of your energy-storing pre-match routine.
As if all that wasn’t enough, milk is loaded with vitamins and minerals which can improve your hydration levels. When regularly consumed, all of these factors add up to an improved recovery rate, especially when drank after training when the need is high.
Rocky didn’t just chug down a glass of wholesome raw eggs because he likes the taste. Just like Hollywood’s most famous boxer, eggs should be somewhere near the very top of every footballer’s to-eat list.
Primarily, eggs are a great source of protein, supporting your muscle repair after a game. This is supported by a healthy dose of essential amino acids, including high levels of leucine, which has been shown to be a dominant amino acid in repairing muscle.
As well as this, the fats in eggs have been shown to lower blood cholesterol. They also contain the vitamins choline and bethane for brain development and function and feelings of happiness.
The best part? Eggs, when compared to other high sources of protein, are remarkably cheap.
Blueberries have recently taken their place as a esteemed member of the superfood elite. Not only are they so damn tasty, but they should also now take their place in your essentially post-match recovery diet.
And understandably so, they not only contain anti-oxidants that can protect your body from the effects of free-radicals (that are produced from training) and aid recovery; studies have also been conducted that link blueberries to good mental health and inhibit the growth of fat cells.
To round off the benefits of these epic small berries, they also contain Vitamins C and K which can help you feel energised, protect and repair bones and protect from infectious diseases.
Speaking of trendy superfoods, avocados is surely the absolute king. These green, stone-containing fruits are a great source of fibre which is needed for a healthy gut and can contribute to weight loss.
They’re also packed full of good quality fats that can keep you healthy and keep your body functioning. Take a deep breathe, but here’s a list of the nutrients you’ll get some chowing down on an avocado:
Vitamins K, Folate, Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B3.
These nutrients provide many health benefits, such as: maintaining a healthy immune system, produce hormones and aid in normal growth and development – three vital factors to aiding recovery and boosting performance out on the football pitch.
This little wonder veg is a tasty addition to most bistro style salads, but the health benefits can include a reduction in inflammation, speeding up the recovery process as well as energising performance, speed and mental focus (just watch out for their staining qualities on your clothes).
Plus, it can even provide you with a handy boost in stamina. How? Nitrates. These natural chemicals change into nitric oxide in the body, reducing the cost of oxygen for low-intensity workouts and increasing tolerance for high-intensity exercise.
You can try them pickled or roasted from raw form to eat like chips.
Quinoa as a carbohydrate is a great substitute to pasta and rice as it is low on the GI scale, low in fat and high in fibre and protein (with a full essential amino acid profile).
As a result, quinoa is often the the sporting carb of choice, especially pre training/competition. Quinoa still gives you all the sustained energy related benefits of other carbs such as rich and pasta, but does it without the heavy feeling in your stomach or long term effect on weight. It also has the added benefit of being totally gluten free!
9. Chia Seeds
You’ll be hard pressed to find a food that’s so packed full of nutrients, yet comes with a form factor the size of the chia seed. They’re high in a number of things you’ll need for sports recovery and optimum performance, but contain little in the way of calorific content – making them a bonafide superfood.
Chia seeds are high in Omega 3, fibre and calcium, and have a high amount of protein compared to other seeds. These little gems can be added to yoghurts and baking instead of any other seeds or in addition to them.
Broccoli is in the same family as the leafy greens, but has some added vitamins and minerals that makes it a standalone super food.
As with pretty much all the foods outlined here, broccoli contains a number of nutrients such as Vitamin C and folate, as well as Vitamins A, K, calcium and fibre. But it also provides a healthy dose of choline, which will help your mental concentration and focus during a game. Choline can also help to produce high quality results even when under the energy sapping pressures of ninety minutes of football.