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A Healthy Diet for Athletes

A Healthy Diet for Athletes

How many calories do I need?
How many carbohydrates do I need?
Why does water matter?

If you're an athlete, you need the same healthy diet all teens need—one that's high in grains, fruits, and vegetables, and low in fat. Use the Food Guide Pyramid to make sure you are getting the right amount from each food group. Because you are active, you also need:
  • more total calories to provide the fuel you need to keep up with your activity.
  • a little more from the grain, fruit, and vegetable food groups. Grains, fruits, and vegetables provide carbohydrates for muscle energy.
  • lots of water to replace the water you lose when you sweat. Sweat is mostly water.
  • plenty of iron-rich foods to help your blood carry oxygen to your muscles to create energy. back to top
How many calories do I need?
The number of calories you need depends on your body type, weight, and fitness level. It's different for each type of sport too. The more intense the sport and the longer the workout, the more calories you need. Most teenage girls need about 2,200 calories a day. If you play sports or exercise a lot, you may need more calories, maybe 2,500 to 3,000 calories or more. Get your extra calories by eating more servings from the grain, vegetable, and fruit groups of the MyPyramid . These foods are rich in carbohydrates. back to top

How many carbohydrates do I need?
As an athlete, you should get about 60 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, your body's main source of energy. Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as glycogen for those times when you need fuel. Carbohydrates will keep you going longer than fat or protein will.

You may have heard of carbo-loading. That means eating lots and lots of carbohydrates and cutting back on your activities in the days before a competition to store up glycogen. This may help highly trained athletes who compete in events that last more than an hour and a half, like a marathon or triathlon. But the research on carbo-loading was done on male athletes. Recent studies suggest that female athletes are different and may need a little more fat before a competition. So just stick with your basic schedule for eating before, during, and after an event. back to top

Why does water matter?
Water helps your athletic performance in several ways:
  • Water is a key part of your blood, which carries oxygen and glucose (a form of sugar) to your muscles for energy.
  • Water cools you down. Your working muscles create heat, which escapes when sweat evaporates off your skin.
  • Water cushions your joints, organs, and other body parts as you run, jump, and move around.
Not getting enough water during sports and other activities can decrease your strength and ability to keep going, and it can make you overheat. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/30/2001
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