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A Healthy Diet for Teens
A Healthy Diet for Teens

A Healthy Diet for Teens

Are you an athlete, cheerleader or dancer? Do you march in band or get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity through volunteer work or walking, biking and other “lifestyle” activities? Eating smart is your best fuel for action, brainpower and growth, so check out our tips on nutrition for teenagers:

Fueling for Growth and Sports

Planning your food choices helps you stay healthy and at a healthy weight.

  • Start with the food groups. As a teenager and throughout the rest of your life, your body needs lots of different nutrients. A healthy diet for teens incorporates carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. As fuel for fitness, eat enough variety from the five food groups (Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Protein and Dairy) in the right amounts to match your energy needs.
  • Snack sensibly. Choose most snacks from the five food groups. Try whole wheat crackers, cheese, veggies, fruit or nuts. Read Nutrition Facts labels and go easy on snacks high in fat and added sugars.
  • Make your beverages count. Choose fat free or low fat milk with meals. If you drink juice, opt for one cup of 100% fruit juice per day. Milk and juice supply nutrients, not just calories. Sodas shouldn’t replace more nutritious beverages or foods. If you’re thirsty, drink water.

Eating for Peak Performance for Athletic Events

Ready to fuel up before, during or after you need to put in a peak performance? Your approach affects how well you perform.

  • Before you get moving: Eat a high carbohydrate meal 3 or 4 hours before vigorous activity. It’s easy to digest and helps power your muscles. Eat until you’re satisfied, but not too full. If you need a little snack later, try fruit about 30 minutes before your event. Prepare by drinking enough fluids, too. Drink at least 2 cups of water about 2 to 2½ hours ahead. Then drink 2 cups of water 15 minutes or less before your activity.
  • While you’re in action: You probably don’t need to eat during competition or practice, unless it lasts longer than an hour. Then a break for a cereal bar, banana or other carbohydrate-rich food may do. More important, drink enough fluids: ½ cup of water every 15 minutes to avoid dehydration, muscle cramps or heat exhaustion.
  • When you’re done: Drink plenty of fluids to replace what you lose through sweat. Water, sports drinks and fruit juice are all okay, but skip carbonated beverages. Within 1 to 4 hours, enjoy a high-carb meal with some protein and fat. Food, rather than salt tablets and electrolyte drinks, is the best way to replace electrolytes you lose by sweating.


Nutrition myths and misinformation abound. Use the following “myth-breakers” to plan your nutrition approach.

  • Bulk up with exercise. Loading up on protein foods or protein drinks won’t build your muscles. A healthy diet for teens can supply all the protein you need. To build muscles, you need to work them. As you build muscles, nutrient-dense carbs and daily portions of protein foods are your best fuels.
  • Be smart about competitive weight goals. Your competition weight should be based on your growth stage. If you’re a wrestler, gymnast or dancer, compete or perform at a weight that’s healthy for you. Trying to crash diet, fast or sweat off weight isn’t healthy, and may cause dehydration and fatigue, which can affect your performance.
  • Don’t load up on carbs. Carbohydrate loading (where athletes store extra carbohydrates in their bodies) isn’t advised for teenagers. A wiser move is to eat a balanced meal a few hours before vigorous exercising. Remember, athletes who work out hard every day need to eat a few extra carbs every day (because they need more fuel).
  • Eat smart, forget fads. Unproven, supposedly effortless ways to build strength or reach your target weight aren’t effective and may be harmful. Steer clear of these, even if celebrities or friends suggest them.

Nutrition for teens is extremely important as your body grows and develops. A healthy diet for teenagers helps support brain function and physical wellness. Visit My Food and Family to find Healthy Living Recipes that will please every palate. For more tips like this, be sure to check out our Healthy Living Center.

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