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Fuel your body

Teenagers who are very active in sports and athletics often have questions about nutrition.

Bodies need fuel to get the most out of sport and fitness activities, and the best place to start is with the basics of a healthy and varied diet. There are no quick fixes. Supplements, in particular, are not recommended for teenagers.

Here are some of the most common questions that teenagers ask about sports nutrition. We have also produced a booklet called Fuel Your Body, which provides general advice for 13- to 17-year-olds who are involved in sport.

Frequently asked questions

  • 1. Why is it important for sports people to eat well?

    If you are playing sport regularly for your school or a club, what you eat and drink is important to help you perform at your best. Good nutrition can:

    • Help you perform at your best
    • Help you stay healthy and feel great
    • Help you achieve your fitness and training goals
  • 2. Should I follow this advice at all times or just before a competition?

    You should follow this advice at all times to maintain good health and get the best possible results from your training.

  • 3. I don’t want to make big changes to my diet – what are the most important changes I should make?

    Choose one or two things to change in your diet at any one time e.g. improving your snack options or making sure that fluid intakes are adequate. Once you’ve got this right, move onto something else and before you know it you will have a healthy and varied diet.

    The Fuel Your Body leaflet is packed with information about what to eat and drink to perform best in your sport, stay healthy and feel great.

  • 4. What foods should I eat in order to build muscle?

    Protein is one nutrient needed for muscle growth, building and repair. Some excellent protein rich foods to include in the diet are lean red meat, soya and tofu, chicken, turkey, nuts, fish, pulses, eggs, yoghurt, low fat milk and cheese.

    It is a myth that you need protein supplements to build muscle mass. Protein intakes way above your needs will not result in further muscle growth.

    Carbohydrates also play an important part in gaining muscle. If you are not eating enough to meet your energy (calorie) needs, then you will have little or no success at building or maintaining muscle mass. A structured training programme is also essential.

  • 5. What snacks should I eat before and after exercise?

    Before exercise:

    To ensure your energy levels are at their best when you exercise, eat a meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates two to three hours before you exercise. Some ideas for pre-exercise snacks include the following

    • Toast (add banana, nut butter or baked beans as a topping )
    • Chicken with rice and salad
    • Jacket potato with beans, tuna or chicken and salsa
    • Yoghurt drink with a scone and low-fat spread
    • Low‑fat creamed rice with dried fruit
    • Low‑fat yoghurt and fruit
    • Bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter

    After exercise:

    To restore your energy levels after exercise and to maintain muscle mass, eat a snack that is high in carbohydrates and protein. Here are some examples:

    • Ham, tuna or turkey sandwich with a drink or water
    • Low‑fat milk with a banana
    • Yoghurt drink
    • Bagel and cream cheese, crumpet or pancake with jam
    • Pot of low-fat yoghurt and a banana
    • Fruit and low-fat milk
  • 6. Do I need extra protein after sport?

    This is another myth! You don’t need huge amounts of protein to "bulk up". Protein powders and shakes are not recommended for teenagers. You will get plenty of protein by including foods that contain protein in your diet. 

  • 7. How do I know if I’m getting enough fluid?

    Checking your urine colour is a quick and simple way for you to see if you are drinking enough fluids. It should be a pale-yellow colour. If it is darker than this, you need to drink more.

  • 8. Do I need sports supplements?

    You do not need sports supplements. Sports supplements have not been tested on teenagers or children, so there is zero evidence to show they are safe for your growing body and are not recommended for anyone under 18 years of age. A varied balanced diet will provide all the nutrients you need.

  • 9. How do I improve my performance?
    • Eat a varied balanced diet that meets your growth and energy needs
    • Drink enough fluids to stay hydrated and replace any lost fluids
    • Plan your training and recovery properly
    • Improve your technique and skills through training
  • 10. Does this advice apply to friends who don’t play sport?

    Absolutely! While some of the advice is sport-specific, there are some great ideas in the Fuel Your Body leaflet on how to incorporate healthy meals and snacks into your diet and how to achieve a more balanced, healthy lifestyle. Good nutrition is important for healthy growth and development as well as fuelling energy needs for sport.

  • 11. Where can I find out more?

    If you feel you need specific advice tailored to your individual needs, contact a sports dietitian or registered sport and exercise nutritionist. Listings are on the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute website.

Fuel Your Body booklet

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