Fueling Through the Teenage Years

Nutrition throughout the entire lifecycle is important, but the teenage years are critical for continued growth and development of strong bodies for adulthood. During this time, teens reach their adult height and many body changes occur. The amount of calories needed for teens varies, but the quantities are at an increased level compared to other times in the lifecycle. It’s not only what we eat, but balanced with adequate sleep and physical activity to provide teens the fuel they need for their teenage years and beyond.

What are the nutrition needs of teens?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based guidelines on dietary choices for health, females aged 9-13 need 1,400-2,2200 calories per day, and males need 1,600-2,600 calories per day. Each day the focus should be on a variety, of foods and food groups. This focus should include whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.

Building up bone banks through the teen years is critical to prevent bone fractures and breakage into adulthood. Calcium-rich sources include milk, cheese, and yogurt, and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are good sources as well. Adding dairy to our diet can be in the form of making oatmeal with milk, pairing a string cheese with a fruit or veggie for a snack, or building the perfect yogurt parfait to get the bonus of 3 food groups in one delish breakfast or snack.  Low amounts of protein, especially in teenage females are usually consumed which results in a lack of protein, iron deficiency, and lack of B vitamins. How can more be consumed? Adding beans to a salad, or taco, or even try a bean-based burger, it’s packed with many vitamins critical for health. Hard-boiled eggs can be added to a snack or lunch box with veggies and whole-grain crackers.  Portion size has been distorted over the years and 3oz, which is the side of a deck of cards, or the palm of your hand is a portion. Protein portions should not fill up half your plate, save that for colorful fruits and vegetables which are packed with their own set of vitamins and minerals. Examples are Vitamin A for healthy skin and vision, Vitamin C for immunity, fiber for heart health, potassium to relate blood pressure, and magnesium to help regulate blood sugar just to name a few. Whole grains like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice are going to provide energy, gut health, and additional iron and magnesium. Consuming these over-refined grains a.k.a white bread and white rice are not going to provide a powerhouse of nutrition and provide the vitamins and minerals needed to keep building the foundation of health for adulthood to prevent chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and others.

Teens need to rethink their drink. Consumption of fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, coffee drinks, teas, along with sodas are classified as sugar-sweetened beverages which contribute on average over 30% of added sugar consumed in this age group. Besides added sugar, they are also providing additional calories without much nutritional value. The focus should be on water, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juice within the dietary recommendations. With increased activity levels it’s easy to grab sports drinks, but they may not always be needed. Fuel with water throughout the day and if needed, add a sports drink after an intense activity that is more than 1 hour long. If not a fan of plain water, flavor it with fruit and herbs such as pineapple and mint, orange and thyme, or rosemary and ginger to name a few. Use a diffuser or place it in water overnight to give it flavor. Another pro tip is to bring a refillable water bottle with you when on the go and enough water to refill if not in a location where water is provided. This will help give your body what it needs to move nutrients through and keep you hydrated.

How much sleep do teens really need?

Adequate sleep not only gives our body the rest it needs but also helps in chronic disease prevention. Those who do not get the recommended amounts have shown behavior issues, poor mental health, and a higher risk for diabetes and obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control those aged 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep in 24 hours and those 13-18 should aim for 8-10 hours during the same time period. How can this be achieved? First, stick to a schedule and be consistent. By going to bed at the same time during the week and on weekends.  In addition, limit screen time in the evening, and don’t sleep with any electronics in bedrooms. Keeping the lights lower in the evening helps prepare for better sleep. Being more physically active also helps our bodies fall asleep more easily.

What types of physical activity should my teen focus on?

Teens should focus on 60 minutes of physical activity or more each day for optimal health. This should include three types of activity. The first focus is on aerobics, increasing that heart rate every day! Examples of these activities include walking, bike riding, swimming, and playing sports.  Muscle strengthening should be part of activity at least three days a week to help maintain muscle strength. Examples of these activities include doing pushups, climbing, or using a resistance band. Bone strengthening should be part of activity at least three days a week to keep bones strong. Examples of these activities include jumping jacks, running, tennis, and basketball.

The fuel teens need is in the food choices they select, the activity they pair with, and the sleep they aim to achieve. Often schedules and lack of planning lead to making unhealthy choices and excuses of why something is not done or lacks. Building these habits during a time of growth in the teenage years is critical to preventing chronic diseases and aiming for the healthy lifestyle we all desire to achieve.


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Posted: October 9, 2023

Category: Health & Nutrition
Tags: Teen Nutrition

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