Diet for Teen Runners

Teen runners get their energy from glycogen, which is stored via carbohydrate consumption.
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With almost 50 percent of teens engaging in extracurricular athletic activities, parents should understand the nutritional needs of teenage athletes. Teenagers require more calories than the average adult in order to develop in a healthy manner. Certain athletes, including runners, require even more calories due to the extra expenditure of energy through periods of running. Both calories and nutritional content are essential the diet of a teenage runner.


Teen runners require a daily amount of protein that is a bit more than the average teen but a bit less than a teenage anaerobic athlete. Because running is mainly about cardio and endurance, protein is not the main fuel source of the teen runner. Regardless, the teen runner will need 0.5 to 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. So if your child weighs 120 pounds, he should have a daily protein intake of 60 to 120 grams of protein. Examples of proteins are fish, meat, and tofu. To reach this protein requirement, a teen runner should eat between 200 to 400 grams of meat and fish.


Carbohydrates should constitute the main part of a teen runner’s diet. The muscles rely on carbohydrates for energy. This energy is stored as glycogen, which is what teens need to continue exercising for long periods of time. Without adequate carbohydrates, teens will suffer from fatigue during and after running, which will hurt overall performance. The teen’s diet should be at least 50 percent carbohydrates. Diets that include 60 to 70 percent carbohydrates are not uncommon for teen runners and are often recommended. Examples of carbohydrates are pastas, rice and bread. According to the USDA, 6 ounces of carbohydrate-based foods, such as grains, would be an adequate amount of carbohydrates to make up 60 percent of a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. Teen runners should consume about this amount every day.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are important for regulating the body and allowing the teen athlete to properly store energy. Teenagers can get the vitamins and minerals they need from a diet that includes fruits and vegetables. However, one mineral teen runners should intentionally include in their diets is calcium, as calcium helps bones grow strong, which in turn decreases the risk of injuries such as broken or fractured bones. Spinach and milk are natural sources of calcium. Iron is one issue on which male and female runners differ. Female runners should pay attention to iron intake during their periods, as blood loss can lead to an acute loss of iron. Female runners should get at least 15 milligrams of iron per day.


Teen runners should get in the habit of eating well-balanced meals so that they can ensure that they are getting all the nutrition that they need. Water or juice should be a part of every meal to hydrate the runner, lowering the risk of heat strokes and muscle cramps. Meals should also include all of vegetables, carbohydrates and proteins. An example of such a meal is a chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato or beef and potato stew with carrots. Teen runners should eat often. They should have breakfast, lunch, dinner, pre-run meals, and post-run meals. Pre-run and post-run meals should include extra amounts of liquid, and a teen runner should drink at least 100 ounces of water per day. Pre-run meals should be two hours before a run so that the runner has time to store glycogen; post-run meals should be eaten within an hour of finishing the run, so as to recover lost liquid and glycogen levels. On average, the teenage runner should eat between 2,500 and 3,000 calories per day, or about 500 calories per meal or snack.

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