The calories a sixteen year old runner eats provide the energy the body needs to grow, develop and perform. Not eating enough calories will not only harm performance; but if chronic, will negatively impact health, growth and development. On the other hand, eating enough will allow a teen runner to run well and enjoy a healthy and satisfying life. So, how many calories should a sixteen year old female runner eat?
Most sixteen-year-old female runners need to eat around 2,400 calories. In light of differences in weight, height, physical activity, body composition, environment, sleep habits and genetics, no one calorie recommendation works for every sixteen year old female runner. In fact, the same teen will experience changing calorie needs day to day from normal variations in physical activity, hormones and growth among other things.
Some calculators can give rough estimates such as this one https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan.
Instead of focusing on eating to a specific number of calories, a sixteen year old runner should eat in a way that makes them feel energized, satisfied and happy throughout the day. Continue reading to find out more about how a sixteen year old can eat to continue to grow and perform well.
What does eating enough calories look like for a 16 year old female runner?
The 2,400-calorie recommendation for an active sixteen-year-old female can act as a baseline. From this general guideline, teen girls can pay attention to fullness and hunger cues along with energy levels and growth to find what works best for them.
Signs of adequate calorie intake:
- Feeling satisfied after meals
- Able to focus on aspects of life other than food
- Energy to meet daily demands
- Desire to participate in hobbies
- Normal growth
- Healthy hair, skin and nails
- Ability to fall and stay asleep at night
Signs of inadequate calorie intake:
- Feeling hungry all the time
- Preoccupation with food
- Decreased desire to participate in normal activities
- Weight loss
- Dry and brittle hair, skin, nails
- Loss of period
- Poor immune system
- Multiple injuries
Intuitive eating for 16-year olds
Intuitive eating can replace counting calories as a way to meet the body’s ever changing energy demands. Intuitive eating means listening to and responding to the inward cues rather than outward cues to meet the body’s mental and physical needs. This way of eating is associated with mental and physical health benefits.
This approach to eating centers on ten principles:
- Reject the diet mentality
Realize that a fad diet rarely leads to lasting results or happiness. Choose to avoid empty diet claims based on restriction and other food rules.
- Honor your hunger
When the body sends the signal of hunger, respond by eating. Ignoring these signals can create extreme hunger, which may result in eating in excess or without intention.
- Make peace with food
Avoid labeling foods as bad or good. Forbidden foods increase feelings of deprivation that can lead to uncontrollable cravings.
- Challenge the food police
Those thoughts of being good for following a certain food rule or being bad for eating a certain food do more harm than good. Challenge and change those food police thoughts.
- Discover the satisfaction factor
Find or create the pleasure in the eating experience.
- Feel your fullness
Take the time during meals to pay attention to fullness cues. Ask yourself about current fullness and satisfaction while eating and respond appropriately.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
Try to deal with the real source of an emotion. Food may seem like the answer, but often only satisfies the emotional need temporarily.
- Respect your body
Each body is unique and beautiful. Avoid trying to fit a certain mold through extreme measures. Live in a way that makes your body feel good, not just to match a certain ideal.
- Movement-feel the difference
Move in a way that makes you feel good. Sometimes burning calories is the only focus of exercise, which increases the chance of burnout and injury. As a runner, train with the purpose to perform well and to enjoy the running experience.
- Honor your health-gentle nutrition
Food choices should make you feel good while honoring your health and taste preferences. Diet perfection is not required. Eating treats along with an overall balanced meal pattern can still provide good nutrition for running.
Calorie counting may work for some individuals, but may increase the risk for disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food. Intuitive eating promotes a healthier relationship with food. Find out more about intuitive eating at https://www.intuitiveeating.org
What is the Female Athlete Triad?
Female runners who purposely restrict food or unknowingly eat too little may find themselves at risk for the female athlete triad. This triad consists of low energy availability, amenorrhea (loss of the female menstrual cycle) and decreased bone mineral density.
The high energy demands of a teenage runner’s growth and training along with poor nutrition habits causes low energy availability. Basically, the energy input through food does not meet the amount of energy the body uses day to day. This inequality of energy input and output puts the teenager at risk for many negative health consequences.
Menstruation dysfunction may result as one those health consequences. While the loss of a period may feel nice as a female athlete, this dysfunction is a serious sign of the body not doing well.
Often referred to as amenorrhea, the disappearance of a period or lack of period by age sixteen, means the body is struggling to meet the energy demands of just living.
During this time of deprivation, the body works hard just to survive. All energy gets redirected to essential body functions and little energy is left for the reproductive system. The reproductive hormones no longer work properly, resulting in amenorrhea and other harmful health adaptations.
One of the hormones, estrogen, helps teenagers develop strong bones. The dysfunction of this hormone leads to the third symptom of the female athlete triad, poor mineral bone density. Female athletes also tend to consume inadequate calcium and other bone supporting nutrients, which worsens the problem.
Teenage years mark a crucial time for skeletal health. The ability to build up bone drastically slows down in the twenties and stops in the thirties. As a result of poor bone health at this time, teens can later develop osteoporosis, a debilitating disease of weak, brittle bones.
If a sixteen year old female runner or the parents suspect this triad, reach out to a healthcare professional. The female athlete triad is a serious condition with lasting, harmful consequences.
What is a healthy eating pattern for a sixteen year old female runner?
A healthy eating pattern should focus more on including a variety of foods rather than restriction. Eating three balanced meals and at least two snacks during the day can help an athlete meet their nutrient needs. A general format to follow for meals can be found through the ChooseMyPlate diagram.
Fruits and vegetables
Try to make half the plate fruits and vegetables, or at least five one cup servings per day. Choose from a variety of colors as each fruit and vegetable can provide unique nutrients and health benefits.
Fruit and vegetables are especially important to an athlete due to the high content of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Antioxidants help athletes recover and protect against inflammation and chronic diseases. Vitamins and minerals work to promote energy, the immune system and protect against deficiencies that can harm development and performance. Fiber aids with digestion, prevention of chronic disease and maintaining a healthy weight.
A runner will want to include protein with most meals and snacks. Frequent consumption of protein benefits the body more than a large intake of protein all at once.
Branch out with protein sources as they each offer different beneficial components.
Lean meat provides a great source of quality protein along with energy promoting iron. Seafood offers heart and brain healthy fats along with the protein. Eggs are an easy way to pack in protein along with many great nutrients. Don’t forget legumes and nuts as a great plant-based protein that boasts of all the fruit and vegetable benefits as well.
As a runner, do not fear grains. These foods offer a great source of carbohydrate, which the body breaks down to use as the main source of energy.
Whole grains offer more nutrients and fiber than refined grains. Try to make half the grains, while grains to benefit from all those additional nutrients.
Dairy could be part of the protein group, but the three cup recommendation comes from the high content of skeletal health promoting nutrients of calcium and vitamin D.
Again, variety provides more benefit than straight up three cups of milk. Yogurt boasts of probiotics, which play an important role in gut health. Cheese provides great protein along with many important nutrients.
Dietary fat is a necessity often mislabeled as the enemy. Fats are essential to absorption of nutrients, energy storage and use, hormone and cell production, organ protection and much more.
Unsaturated fats actually protect the heart and brain and should be eaten more often than saturated fats. Unsaturated fats include plant oils, fatty fish, olives, seeds, nuts and avocados. Saturated fats are found in butter, coconut oil, lard and red meats.
While not technically a good, fluids are incredibly important for a healthy teenage runner. Poor hydration affects many aspects of life including energy, mental clarity, skin and organ health, and athletic performance.
Water is the best choice for fluids and sugar sweetened beverages should be limited. Aim to drink consistently throughout the day. The best indicator of good hydration is pale urine color.
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