Apr 6, 2018
The Right Balance
Susan Crowell

Calories are an important factor for adolescent athletes, as their energy needs for growth and activity are much higher than the average adult’s. I tell female athletes to aim for 2,400 to 2,800 calories a day, and the males should shoot for 2,800 to 3,500 calories a day.

Of course, getting the right number of calories is simply one element of proper fueling. The right balance of macronutrients to maximize their energy intake is also key.

Carbohydrates provide fuel for power and endurance, while protein satisfies hunger and rebuilds and repairs muscles after a workout. Although the amount of carbohydrate and protein a high school athlete needs depends upon their weight and energy expenditure, carbohydrates should generally make up about 50 to 65 percent of their daily calories, and protein should take up another 15 to 20 percent.

To get a little more specific: Athletes in endurance sports like running, distance cycling, triathlon, Nordic skiing, and synchronized swimming require 3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight per day (grams/pound/day) and 0.5 to 0.6 grams/pound/day of protein. Those in high-intensity, power, and strength sports, such as baseball, basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, volleyball, and wrestling, require 2.3 grams/pound/day of carbs and 0.6 to 0.8 grams/pound/day of protein. So using these guidelines, a 120-pound female lacrosse player at Stillwater would be able to calculate that she needs 276 grams of carbohydrate and between 72 and 96 grams of protein each day.

Two other key nutrients for high school athletes are fat and calcium. Fat is not something to be avoided. Rather, teen athletes should get 25 to 35 percent of their calories from fat. They also need about 1,200 to 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. Calcium is important for teen athletes because it strengthens their bones and lays the groundwork for osteoporosis prevention.

Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grain bread, cereal, waffles, and pasta; brown/wild rice; quinoa; fruit; vegetables; milk; and yogurt.

Quality protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds, nut butters, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Healthy fats can be found in olive or canola oil, olives, avocado, and nuts and seeds.

And for calcium, milk, lactose-free milk, calcium-fortified soy or almond milk, calcium supplements, Greek or regular yogurt, cheese, almonds, and broccoli are all good options.

Image by Tech. Sgt. Christina M. Styer


Susan Crowell, MS, RD, LD, CDE, is a Registered Dietitian for HealthPartners Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn., and serves as an advisor to PowerUp, a community-wide youth health and wellness initiative. She has also worked with the Stillwater School District's nutrition counseling program since 1999.


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