Aug 15, 2016
Best Fueling Plan
Emily Edison

When it comes to fueling for their sport, high school athletes face a lot of challenges, such as limited time, minimal motivation for meal prep, and frequent travel. They also inhabit bodies that are rapidly changing. And some struggle body image and self-esteem issues related to their physique.

For the past 11 years, the Washington Interscholastic Nutrition Forum (WIN- Forum) has supported high school athletes in creating fueling game plans to help them succeed in sport. In my experience, science-based education and a bit of planning up front can go a long way in meeting the fueling challenges for high school athletes.

The available research on nutrition for high school athletes supports a meal plan that incorporates eating multiple times a day and balancing macronutrients to maintain performance. Let’s start by taking a closer look at macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Carbohydrates: Athletes should get more than half of their daily calories from high-quality carbohydrates, such as grains, fruits, and dairy. Unfortunately, this does not always happen because many high school athletes misunderstand carbohydrates. They are quick to adopt fad diets that restrict carbohydrates or cut out whole food groups, such as dairy or grains.

Protein: A crucial part of a high school athlete’s diet to maximize muscle growth and repair, protein is another key macronutrient. Generally, teenage athletes require between .7 and .9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. Because the body can only utilize approximately 25 grams of protein per feeding interval, athletes should focus on consuming small, high-quality doses throughout the day. Dairy, eggs, meat, chicken, fish, tofu, edamame, and soy milk are all high-quality sources.

Additionally, new research suggests that a pre-bed snack consisting of 20 to 25 grams of high-quality protein can help the body assimilate muscle tissue during sleep. Acquiring muscle while they sleep? This should be an easy sell to high school athletes.

Fat: Finally, high school athletes need fat–the heart-healthy kind. Educate them on the importance of consuming fats from fish, nuts, vegetable oils (e.g., olive and canola) and avocados. These support energy, muscle growth, immune function, and recovery.

Sample Plan:

It can be hard for teenagers to figure out how to consume protein throughout the day, so I find it helpful to provide them with ideas and examples. Here’s a sample eating plan I drew up for Sara, a 16-year-old, 5-foot-11- inch, 150-pound basketball player. She needed 120 grams of protein per day to maintain stamina and gain muscle during her offseason training.

Breakfast: Two-egg scramble on two pieces of toast with avocado and tomato and eight ounces of milk=24 grams of protein

Snack: Six ounces of Greek yogurt and fruit=12 grams

Lunch: Three ounces of tuna on two slices of bread, granola bar, carrots and hummus, and fruit=24 grams

Pre-practice snack: Half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a fruit leather=7 grams

Post-practice snack: 12 ounces of chocolate milk=12 grams

Dinner: Three-ounce portion of grilled pork tenderloin, baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli, and fruit salad with yogurt=25 grams

Pre-bed snack: Cottage cheese and fruit=15 grams.

A longer version of this article has appeared in Training & Conditioning, a sister publication to High School Athlete Performance. The full article can be accessed here.

Since 2005, Emily Edison, MS, RD, CSSD, has coordinated the Washington Interscholastic Nutrition Forum (, a sport nutrition resource and educational program geared toward high school athletes. She is also the owner and founder of Momentum Nutrition in Seattle and spent seven years as the consulting Sports Dietitian for the University of Washington athletic department.

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