Kids eat right.

Teen Nutrition for Fall Sports

By Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD
Girl Playing Soccer - Teen Nutrition for Fall Sports


Fall is a great season for stop-and-go sports such as soccer, football and basketball. Your teen athlete needs power for quick, strong moves and endurance for practices and games. But how do you make sure that your active teen gets the necessary nutrients to fuel both? Here are four nutrition tips to keep in mind.

Food Is Fuel

You wouldn't put cheap gas in a luxury car, so why put unhealthy fats and added sugars in your teen athlete's body? Active teenage boys need 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day, while active girls need 2,200 to 3,000 calories. Choose quality calories from fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, low-fat dairy, lean protein and heart-healthy fats. These foods provide the vitamins and minerals athletes need.

  • Breakfast is a great time for whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and fruit or whole-grain waffles with peanut butter, banana and fruit juice.
  • Prior to lunch at school, review the cafeteria's menu and help your teen choose performance foods instead of fried or fast food. Bean and beef burritos topped with salsa, or grilled chicken sandwiches with coleslaw, delivers nutrients needed for afternoon practices.
  • For dinner, spaghetti with meat sauce accompanied by a salad or vegetables and whole-grain Italian bread with olive or canola oil spread plus low-fat milk is a great recovery meal.
  • Keep nutritious snacks handy — fresh fruit; veggies and hummus; low-fat cheese and yogurt; and low-fat microwave popcorn.

Carbs Are King

Carbohydrates are the most important fuel for an athlete. Carbs are stored as fuel inside muscles and athletes need full carbohydrate stores before activity. Carbs also are needed after a workout to get ready for the next day's events. Carbs are the only fuel that can be used for power moves — a slam dunk, a sprint to the goal line or an overhead smash all need carbohydrates.

  • Eat a light snack before practice (especially if your teen has an early lunch period), such as half a turkey sandwich or an orange and string cheese, along with 1 to 2 cups of water.
  • After practice or a game, refuel with a sports drink or low-fat milk, a banana and a handful of trail mix.

Build Muscle with Protein from Foods

Eat real food and shun expensive protein supplements. Muscles can get all the protein they need from foods!

  • Lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, and edamame are excellent protein sources.
  • Dried beans (such as black beans), chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds also are good sources of protein.
  • Include some protein in every meal to help muscles recover.

Pack Snacks

Active teens need snacks to boost calories. Here some backpack-friendly snacks:

  • Sports drinks or juice boxes
  • Trail mix
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Fig bars
  • Dried fruit or fruit puree pouches (such as applesauce)