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Teen athletes: the weight-gain battle.

Teen athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. Unlike adults, who often battle with reducing body weight, many teen athletes struggle with wanting to gain weight--more specifically, muscle.

Muscle has approximately four times the metabolic activity of fat. It is actually more difficult to gain muscle than to lose fat. A careful review of an athlete's eating habits provides an invaluable opportunity to identify ways to increase nutrient intake with the idea of optimizing health and promoting muscle gain.

Teen athletes can use the following as a guide to promote weight gain.

Proper hydration is critical to optimize sport performance and prevent dehydration. However, the high intake of fluids can sabotage any weight-gain program. It is common for athletes to fill up on fluids and then not be hungry when it is time to eat.



* Sports drinks for exercise. Sports drinks are superior to water for hydration purposes. Drink sports beverages immediately before, during, and after exercise. After exercise, drink until you are not thirsty anymore, and then drink two additional 8-oz. cups of the beverage.

* Timing is everything. Give yourself time to get hungry. Complete your re-hydration within 30 minutes of exercise. This will give you time to start feeling hungry; eat solid food within two hours of finishing exercise. Then eat a snack within two to three hours of that meal.

* Eat before you drink. Foods provide key nutrients that replete glycogen stores and support muscle recovery. During meals, eat until you are not hungry, only then should you drink.

* Think protein at meals and snacks. High-protein fluids contain key nutrients that support bone as well as muscle growth. Drink milk at meals and milk- or soy-based fruit smoothies or meal-replacement drinks with snacks.


Athletes have higher protein needs than non-athletes, but protein needs are easily met through the diet, even for the teen athlete. If an athlete has adequate protein intake but inadequate energy (also called calorie) intake, protein will be used by the body for energy purposes instead of building muscle.

To gain weight, energy intake must be greater than energy expenditure (the amount of energy needed to maintain body functions, for growth and exercise). The following are recommendations for increasing energy and protein content of the diet:

* Eat more food. Take larger servings at meals, go back for seconds, and eat more frequently throughout the day. Eat three meals and at least two snacks (one snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon, the other in the evening) each day.

* Think outside the box. Love pizza? It's a great alternative to traditional breakfast foods, providing you with protein and key antioxidants, like vitamin C and lycopene, to help boost the immune system. If you are eating on the run, grab a couple of pieces on your way out the door. Pizza makes for a great snack, too.

* Think ahead. Pack healthy snacks that can easily be pulled out of your backpack and eaten on the run. Examples include granola bars, trail mix, bagels, yogurt-covered raisins, oatmeal cookies, and fig bars.

* Eat high protein foods. The sources of protein that the body uses most effectively come from eggs, meat, and dairy (milk, cheese, cottage cheese). Other good sources of protein are dry beans (like refried beans in burritos) and whole grains (whole wheat breads and breakfast cereals). Choose these high-protein foods at home and when you are eating out.

Being a better athlete starts with having a strong athletic foundation. The above guide will enable a teen athlete to include sound nutrition practices as part of the foundation to maximize what they want to accomplish in their athletic endeavors.

By Brenda M. Malinauskas (PhD., RD), Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, East Carolina U., Greenville, NC and Reginald F. Overton (EdD.), Associate Professor, Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Virginia State U., Petersburg, VA
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Author:Overton, Reginald F.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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