For many young men, nutrition isn't always a focus. There are many transitions going on at this point in life. Busy schedules and new environments can lead to unhealthful eating habits such as skipping meals or snacks, eating nothing but fast food, overeating, and drinking excessive amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages or alcohol. Along with inconsistent eating patterns, young men may experience fluctuations in weight and a lack of energy.
Making healthful choices to fuel a young, active mind and body starts with balance. Follow a nutritious eating plan featuring lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free sources of dairy. By eating well now, you can lessen your risk of health-related problems later. Try these nine changes:
Eat Breakfast Every Day
The first meal you eat in the morning truly "breaks the fast". Don't skip it! This is a valuable opportunity to get in servings from some of the food groups. Try a smoothie, baked oatmeal or whole-grain cereal
A midmorning and midafternoon snack may help you avoid overeating at meals and alleviate energy lows throughout the day. Have a whole-grain muffin if you prefer sweet foods or popcorn if you prefer savory.
Eat Vegetables and Fruits
Aim for at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables every day. Grab an apple, peach or pear for the road. Enjoy sliced fruit for a snack. Put veggies, such as lettuce and tomato on a sandwich or order a salad.
Make Protein Count
Young men need protein to fuel developing muscles. Focus on lean choices such as chicken, turkey and pork and include fish at least two times a week. Include plant-based proteins such as tofu, beans and lentils, too.
Add in Healthy Fats
Be selective with the fat you eat. Limit fries, onion rings and nachos. Eat heart-healthy fat sources such as olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, almonds and avocado.
Young men need 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day for bone and tooth health. What young men do prior to age 30 is crucial to having healthy bones for life. Food is your best source of calcium. Aim for three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as milk, yogurt or cheese every day. Non-dairy sources of calcium include fortified plant-based beverages, calcium-set tofu and greens including collards and kale.
You also need vitamin D, which is important for bone health. Good sources of this nutrient include fatty fish, like salmon, eggs and fortified foods and beverages, including some cereals and dairy products. If there is little to no fortified milk or fish in your diet, discuss the need to take a supplement with your health care provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Iron is important for energy. You likely can get enough iron by eating a variety of foods including lean meats, seafood, beans, and poultry. Iron-fortified cereals, leafy greens and some dried fruits, such as raisins also provide iron. Young men need just eight milligrams of iron per day. Women need more iron than men.
Most young men do not need an excuse to get active. For healthy bones and overall good health, get a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities throughout the week. To build muscle, strength train with weights or resistance bands at least two to three times a week. A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity is recommended weekly for adults.