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Foods to help active teens gain muscle

Spinach + sports = six pack?

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Our children surprise us nearly every day. But one of the biggest surprises can be when your child announces he’s on a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb diet, and asks you to buy spinach or another green leafy food he’s rejected his entire life. When asked why, he explains he wants to develop his abs.

Welcome to the world of tween and teen sports nutrition, where kids desire to build muscle and strength — and coaches suddenly are the most important adults in a young person’s world.

“This is really a great opportunity to get them engaged in talking about good nutrition and how they should be eating,” explains Ellen Shanley, RD, dietetics director at the University of Connecticut, co-author of “Fueling the Teen Machine” second edition, and the mother of two.

Yet, “as a parent you need to be involved and ask questions if you do not agree or have questions about something the coach is stating,” she says.

Team participation and dietary habits

Unfortunately, not every student athlete is lean and fit. In a recent review of the research published in Current Sports Medicine Report, a journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, there’s no evidence showing that sports participation prevents obesity in kids.

Those who play sports are more likely to consume fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages and take in more total calories than non-athletes. Yet, these same students often consume more vegetables, fruits, and drink more milk than those not in sports.

It’s likely no surprise to parents that many sport participants consume empty-calorie foods. Think of the candy, sugar-sweetened drinks, chips, and ice cream sold at games and meets.

And parents are often on the hook for bringing “treats” for practices and games, regardless of the amount of actual calories burned.

Nutrition strategies

• For building muscle, you must exercise those muscles, says Shanley.

“The best way to build muscles is when aerobic exercise is combined with strength training. The energy to do this is provided mostly from carbohydrates, not protein.”

• Eat enough calories. An average teen female needs 2,000 calories each day, and a male needs 2,300. But calorie needs can vary depending on the athlete’s age, gender, height, weight, type of sport, playing time, intensity level, and skill level.

• Eat a good mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Fifty-five to 60 percent of the calories should come from carbohydrate, 20 to 35 percent or less from fat, and 15 to 20 percent from protein.

• Most athletes need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. For example, a 110-pound youth needs about 40 grams of protein.

• Need help in translating the above recommendations? Consult a credentialed sports dietitian by visiting www.scandpg.org/search-rd/

In addition to parental involvement, there’s much that can be done by league officials and coaches of youth sport organizations to promote healthy dietary habits among participants. They can reach out to registered dietitians for educational seminars and to help develop simple, accurate nutrition education materials for parents, coaches, and youths.

Volunteer parent coordinators can also develop food and beverage guidelines for team snacks and items sold at concession stands.

As for your son frustrated with the lack of progress with his “six-pack” and biceps? Advise patience. His male hormones will increase during the maturation process, and so will his ability to grow muscles.

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a registered dietitian in Naperville, Ill. and an adjunct faculty member of Benedictine University. Her son was incredibly frustrated with his inability to sprout muscles during his teen years. Follow her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition, on Twitter @PalumboRD or Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com.

Yummy frozen banana bites

This is a fun way to use up slightly overripe bananas, as well as small amounts of leftover holiday sprinkles and bits of chocolate.


1 banana, peeled

About 1/3 cup chocolate chips (or leftover chocolate bar, chopped)

Flaked sweetened coconut

Cookie or cake “sprinkles”

DIRECTIONS: After cutting off the ends of the banana, cut into 1-inch slices. Place the slices onto a plate or baking sheet lined with wax paper. Freeze for about one hour. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips in 30-second increments. Stir well after each, until the chocolate is completely smooth. Place the coconut and sprinkles each on separate plates. Remove the banana from the freezer and dip each piece halfway into the melted chocolate. Roll the chocolate-covered halves in the coconut and sprinkles. Place the banana pieces back on the plate and into the freezer for an additional 15 minutes or until set.

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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