Eat To Win: 5 Ways to Support Your Female Athlete

Eat To Win: 5 Ways to Support Your Female Athlete

Natasha Burgert, MD/General Pediatrician,

Every parent wants to see their child perform at their best, and parents of female athletes are no exception. In addition to organizing carpools to practices and sitting on the bleachers during games, moms and dads can support their daughter’s athletic play by understanding the unique needs of her growing, active body.

Here are 5 tips to help your daughter perform her best.

  1. Encourage her to drink water, not sports drinks. Sports drinks are colorful, sweet, and marketed by popular athletes, but rarely needed by teens. These drinks are high in calories, harmful to teeth, and contain additives that a growing body simply does not need. Although sports drinks claim to help athletes recover from sports participation, water is what a teen’s body needs to replace hydration lost in games and practice. Encourage your daughter to drink plenty of water before and after she plays. Keep a re-usable water bottle in her backpack or in the car for sips on-the-go. For flavor alternative, add a splash of lemon or orange juice for a refreshing change. Have your daughter prepare her body for exercise by drinking 4-8 ounces of water about one hour before play, then encourage her to drink 4-8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes she is active.
  2. Think about protein for her after-practice snacks. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. When your daughter invests practice time to build speed and strength, it is protein that helps fuel positive change. A growing athlete needs about 0.6 g of protein per pound of body weight every day. For example, a teen who weighs 100 pounds needs about 60 grams of protein every day. The most critical time for her body to use protein to build muscle is immediately afterher workout. To help get a post-practice protein boost, offer quick and easy items like cheeses, yogurt, eggs, and nuts for her to eat, while she is re-hydrating with fresh water. Protein powders and supplements are rarely needed by athletes to meet these protein goals.
  3. Consider an iron supplement. Iron is essential to help the oxygen we breathe become usable to all our body cells. This transfer of oxygen to working muscles is especially important for performance athletes. Female athletes lose iron in mainly 2 ways; from loss in their sweat, and loss in the blood shed during their monthly menstrual cycle. To replace these losses, girls should be consuming 15 milligrams of iron a day. Iron is best absorbed from lean, red meats, iron-fortified cereals, and deep-green vegetables. If your daughter does not eat much of these items, consider offering an iron-supplement in the form of a daily vitamin to support her iron levels. Discuss with your teen’s physician what iron supplement they recommend.
  4. Help pack her bones with calcium. The teen growing years are one of the last times in a female’s life to optimize the calcium content in her bones. The good news is that physical activity for women of all ages will fight bone-wasting, and improve bone strength. You can help your daughter optimize her bone-building by ensuring that she is eating at least 1200 mg of calcium every day. Milk, yogurt, spinach, and almonds are healthy foods that naturally contain calcium. Many calcium supplements are available if your daughter does not eat many of these foods.
  5. Bring her to the doctor for a check-up every year. An annual visit with your daughter’s pediatrician is especially important for athletes. Doctors are able to monitor your daughter’s growth and development, check her vital signs, and watch for signs of the “female athletic triad.” This triad of low calorie intake, menstrual changes, and low bone density can have long-term consequences to your daughter if unnoticed. The signs of the triad, however, can often be difficult for parents to notice without professional help. Summer is a popular time for teenagers to be seen for annual sports exams. Make your appointment today.