How Many Calories Should a Teenage Runner Eat?

Proper nutrition for teen runners is like a second wind; it can give young athletes an extra measure of energy in their moment of need. Learn nutrition tips with running and sprinting nutrition for improved speed, endurance, and recovery. Knowing how much to eat to fuel exercise can help a track athlete thrive. How many calories should a teenage runner eat?

Teenage runners are active adolescents who should be consuming between 2,400 to 3,000 calories per day. Teen female runners typically need around 2,400 calories per day and teen male runners typically need around 3,000 calories per day. A teen’s individual needs depend on their age and sex. Each runner can benefit from the guidance of a dietitian who knows their unique needs and can tailor an individual plan for getting the right amount of calories. 

Read on for more tips from a registered dietitian for fueling teen runners. 

How Many Calories Does a Track Runner Need?

Teenage runners generally need 2,400 calories per day for females and 3,000 calories per day for males. The exact amount of calories depends on several factors, including: 

  • Gender
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Activity level 

Want help? See my meal plan: Fueling Teens Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Athletes

How to Find Your Teenage Runner’s Calorie Needs

Teen runners are generally considered active when it comes to calorie recommendations. You can use this table to find estimated calorie needs: 

Track Runner Calorie Recommendation Based on Activity & Gender

132,600 calories2,200 calories
142,800 calories2,400 calories
153,000 calories2,400 calories
16-183,200 calories2,400 calories
193,000 calories2,400 calories

Calorie equations are just an estimate because each person is different. While these recommendations are not personalized for each individual type of athlete, they can be a handy guide to get you started.

More than Just Calories – Energy and Nutrients

Calories should come from a nutrient-rich source of food whenever possible. If a food is nutrient-rich, this means it provides both adequate levels of energy and sufficient nutrients. 

Whole wheat bread, for example, is more nutrient-rich than white bread. This is because whole grains keep more nutrients intact while refined bread often removes vitamins and minerals during processing. 

Special Calorie Considerations

An increase in any of the following may also equal a higher calorie intake: 

  • Height
  • Weight
  • BMI
  • Exercise 
  • Puberty and growth
  • Muscle mass

Athletes going through puberty will need extra calories to meet nutritional needs. The higher level of growth plus the daily activity they participate in means that a greater level of nutrients are needed.

Teenagers with more muscle mass burn more calories at rest. They also require more calories than their non-athlete peers in order to sustain muscle mass. 

Female Runners

Female athletes, and often female runners, are at increased risk for developing what is called the “female athlete triad”. The female athlete triad includes the following three components:

  1. Amenorrhea (no menstrual period)
  2. Osteoporosis (decreased bone health)
  3. Disordered eating

The female athlete triad typically occurs when a female athlete is involved in a lot of exercise and doesn’t fuel her body appropriately, causing nutrient deficiencies, disordered eating habits, and other health issues.

Getting enough calories is an important part of hormonal and overall health, especially for young female athletes. A well-balanced diet composed of nutrient-rich foods can help young female runners meet their caloric and nutritional needs without compromising peak performance

What Should A Track Runner Eat? 

Now that you know how many calories to eat, now the question is what should you eat? Food can act as fuel that keeps teen runners at peak performance levels. Diet and exercise can work hand in hand to keep young athletes healthy and happy. Nutrition is just as important as training!

Here are some tips to keep in mind to making sure your teen athlete is getting the energy he or she needs.

Types of Food for Runners

A teenage runner should have a balanced diet of each of the food groups in order to get the nutrients they need. Fueling a growing body works best when a teen is eating a variety of nutritious foods from multiple food groups each day.

Here’s a quick example of foods from each of the food groups:


Choose about 3 servings per day:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Low-fat cheese 

See also: Is it OK for Teens to be Dairy-Free?


Choose about 2-3 servings per day:

  • 100% fruit juice
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Fruit puree 
  • Oranges
  • Dried fruit
  • Frozen fruit
  • Canned fruit in juice


Choose at least 3-4 servings per day:

  • Celery
  • Carrots 
  • Sweet potato
  • Broccoli 
  • Canned vegetables
  • Frozen vegetables


Choose about 6-9 servings per day:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds


Choose about 8-10 servings per day:

  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread, pasta, tortillas, crackers, cereal, etc.
  • Popcorn

It can be more manageable for young runners to focus on the correct amount of food from each food group than to count calories. The average teenage runner needs about 3 servings of dairy per day, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of vegetables, 6 1/2 ounces of protein, and 8-10 ounces of grains (see protein equivalents and ounces of grain equivalents) in order to meet nutritional needs and hit their calorie recommendations, about 2800 calories per day. 

Important Nutrients for Runners

The following tips can help teen runners thrive on high-quality foods that boost running performance. 

1. Fuel and refuel with quality carbohydrates (carbs). 

Now is not the time to go low-carb. Carbs are the best fuel for runners. Nutrient-rich carbs offer a quick and easy fuel source for the body. Carbs provide fuel to muscles, and runners need full stores before activity as well as repletion after activity. Quality carbs come from options such as whole grains, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, fruit, and low-fat dairy. 

See also: How Many Carbs Does a 15 Year-Old Teen Need? Ask a Dietitian!

2. Real protein when possible. 

Expensive supplements and whey protein may not be the best fueling option. Real protein can come from poultry, fish, beans, eggs, legumes, nuts/nut butters, seeds, low-fat dairy, and other lean protein. These proteins are high quality because they are made from real food and not synthetic supplements. Supplements can have their place, but try getting nutrients from food first.

See also: Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend

3. Have healthy snacks for on-the-go. 

Meal planning may be important, but so is planning snacks! Runners need extra calories compared to the average teen. Plan for 1-3 nutrient-rich snacks each day so that you can get the correct level of carbs, protein, and other nutrients for optimal performance. Plan snacks around healthy carbohydrates and protein. Snacks should generally be around 100-300 calories and 15-30 grams of protein. Make sure to get appropriate pre-workout and post-workout fuel!

See also:

4. Eat an overall healthy diet.

Instead of obsessing about one particular nutrient, aim to eat a healthy diet. A well-balanced diet ensures that a teen athlete is getting all the nutrients they need. A healthy diet helps build and repair muscle tissue and support organ function and general growth. 

Eating a healthy diet can ensure nutrient needs are met. Minerals like iron and calcium are of increased importance for both performance and development in teen runners. Nutrient-rich foods from a variety of sources can help fulfill daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.  

Do Track Runners Need Supplements?

Most cross country and track runners do not require supplements in order to perform better. The most common supplements for teens include creatine, BCAAs, caffeine, whey protein, and other protein supplements.

Supplements aren’t always safe for growing teen athletes and can do more harm than good. Regular growth and training brings more improvements than supplements can offer. However, many teen athletes are vitamin D deficient and could benefit from a vitamin D supplement. Check in with a doctor and dietitian to see if you (or your teen) would benefit from any supplements.

What Foods Should a Track Runner Avoid?

In general, it can be unhealthy to practice limiting or restricting behaviors when it comes to food. However, certain foods can slow the body and decrease performance.

Here are some potential sources of inflammation and irritation to teen runner’s bodies. 

Unregulated Supplements

There is a large lack of regulation in the supplement industry. Starting a supplement regimen without consulting your sports dietitian first can not only slow you down, it can even cause health risks or put you in serious danger. Dietitians are experts who can help teach teens how to evaluate whether or not a supplement is safe

Overly-Processed Foods 

Food that is overly processed only provides minimal nutrients. To function at your best, choose quality calories. In other words, pick foods that offer calories and nutrients and limit unhealthy fats (trans or saturated fats) and added sugars.

Other Foods Runners Should Limit:

It’s Best to Limit These Foods During Your Season, if not always:

  • Fatty foods -fried foods, french fries, hamburgers, fried chicken, greasy pizza, bacon
  • Sugary foods -too many desserts, candy, treats, etc.
  • Soda and sugary beverages
  • Alcohol -any amount of alcohol is a bad idea for an athlete (especially teenagers)
  • Energy drinks -they are usually carbonated, full of caffeine, sugar, and other unnecessary ingredients
  • Highly processed snack foods
  • Artificial sweeteners-can affect digestion and cause an upset stomach

Avoid These Foods Before Running:

  • Carbonated or sugary beverages
  • Gassy foods (beans, hummus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)
  • Spicy foods (depending on personal tolerance)
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Excessive supplements
  • Dairy products- for individuals who are more sensitive
  • High fiber foods (such as beans, lentils, some whole grains, seeds, broccoli)

Remember, all foods fit in a healthy diet in moderation and balance.

See also: What are the Best and Worst Foods for a Teenager to Eat?

What Should Track Athletes Drink? 

Teenage runners should drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Dehydration is detrimental to running. In fact, virtually every indicator of performance (i.e. speed, power, reaction time, strength, endurance) decreases with even just 2% dehydration. 

Stay well hydrated, mostly with water, during the day and during competition.

Benefits of Hydration for Runners

  • Increased energy 
  • Improved movement
  • Recovery
  • Agility
  • Thermoregulation 
  • Aid to mental clarity and activity
  • Improved physical performance
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Improved muscle function
  • Regulated blood pressure 
  • Improved circulation

Stay well hydrated and your body will benefit and perform better.

Dehydration Increases Running Injuries 

Injury risk rises with dehydration. A lack of fluids fueling the body leads to muscle fatigue. The body can become unable to regulate temperature, prevent cramping, and more when the water lost is not replaced.

Factors of Fluid Intake

Fluid needs are based on several factors, including: 

  • Activity type (in this case running)
  • Intensity
  • Environmental conditions
  • Body size of the athlete
  • Training status (more highly trained = more sweat = more water required)

General Guidelines for Staying Hydrated

The general recommendation for optimal hydration is for young athletes to drink ½ to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight. More than 2% body weight should not be lost during a workout (i.e. a 100 pound athlete should not lose more than 2 pounds). Performance declines when athletes become dehydrated. 

Water Weight

An easy way to calculate sweat rate and monitor hydration status is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. This allows you to calculate how well hydrated you are and if you are refueling within healthy guidelines. Be sure to account for any fluids consumed during the workout or injury treatment (i.e. IV fluids). 

Should A Track Athlete Drink Sports Drinks?

Water is the gold standard of hydration, meaning it is considered the best fluid to fuel with. However, the following situations may necessitate sports drinks to replace electrolytes that are lost through sweating: 

  • Exercise longer than 60 minutes
  • Increased intensity workout
  • Extreme environmental conditions (i.e. heat or humidity)
  • Excessive sweating

For the above situations, dietitians recommend drinking a fluid containing 110-240 milligrams (mg) of sodium per each 8 ounce serving. This is the amount recommended by experts for fluid and electrolyte replenishment. 

When runs are intense and you are sweating, it’s important to restore carbohydrates. About 100 calories per hour or 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour is needed to maintain blood sugar at an optimal level. Choose an electrolyte drink with 6-8% carbohydrate solution (i.e. chocolate milk, sports drink with limited added sugar). Drink about 20 oz per hour. You can also choose to eat 1 whole fruit, 1-2 ounces of dried fruit, glucose tablets or gel packets, or drink 100% fruit juice.

Tips For Race Day Nutrition

In general, calorie needs and carbohydrate needs depend on the intensity and duration of the event. It’s important to meet with your dietitian or sports dietitian before race day in order to plan proper fuel and refueling for your body. 

Dietitian Allison Koch, known as “The Running RDN” on her Instagram, says this of nutrition on race day: 

“You’d never imagine trying a new race pace on race day. Or new shoes, shorts, or socks. The same goes for your nutrition.”

Fueling strategies should be set in place before race day begins. Training days are the perfect time to practice correct nutrition requirements.

Four Tips for Race Day Food & Fuel

1. It starts the day before the race. 

Fuel the day before with higher proportion carbohydrate meals. This can include foods like whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, etc. Still eat lean protein and healthy fats — just be sure that carbs fill at least half the plate. 

2. Don’t forget to hydrate. 

Plan hydration for at least half of your body weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, plan on about 75 ounces (around 9 cups) per day. Additional fluids or electrolyte/sports drinks may be necessary depending on the type, duration, or environment of the activity. Check the weather beforehand to see if heat or humidity may increase your fluid needs. 

3. Your body utilizes what you fuel it with. 

It’s an old analogy, but it’s true — your body is like a car and you want to fuel it with the best fuel you can. Your body will reach into muscle mass reserves if you are under-fueled. Be sure to eat a well-balanced meal the day before, as well as a carb-heavy meal 1-4 hours before a long run. 

4. Plan to avoid pit stops

Knowing what causes you to slow down before a race can help you plan accordingly. Fat, fiber, and caffeine can all be roadblocks to success if eaten too close to a long run. To avoid stomach upset, follow fueling recommendations and consult with a sports dietitian to know your individual needs in addition to general recommendations. 

Tips for Fueling During the Race

During a race, teen runners shouldn’t be tired or thirsty before trying to fuel. About 100 calories per hour or 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour is needed to maintain blood sugar at an optimal level. 

Refueling and continuing to refuel in 45-60 minute intervals is the best option for optimal nutrition while running. Be sure to have at least ½ cup to ¾ cup of water (4-6 ounces) every 15-20 minutes during a longer race. 

Nutrition Post-Race During Rest and Recovery 

Nutrition post-race is extremely important. Try refueling as soon as possible and at least within 30-60 minutes and finishing a run. You need to refuel, rehydrate, and recover after a race.

Here are the main components food needs to fulfill for recovery: 

  • Carbs for the body to store 
  • Fluids for rehydration
  • Protein for repairing muscle tissue

What Happens if a Teen Runner Doesn’t Eat Enough Calories?

If you are under-fueling your body and your runs, you will be hurting your body and your race times. Here are some consequences of running and not eating enough:

  • Exertion is increased
  • Pace slows, not hitting PR times
  • Body breaks down muscles instead of strengthening them
  • fatigue easier
  • Body can’t recover as well
  • High risk of injury
  • Nutrient deficiencies

You could experience unintended weight loss and over time your metabolism will slow down and your body will enter “starvation” mode. If you are having a hard time at practices or races and you can’t seem to improve, you may want to check in with a dietitian to see if you are eating enough calories to support your body and running.

The Final Word on Runners & Race Day Fuel

Take your teenage runner’s high to all new heights with nutrient-rich food picks. Proper nutrition can give teen athletes a second wind and make race day and recovery a safer experience. Individual success on the track comes from a team effort that includes a qualified dietitian. 

Related Questions

How Many Calories Should a Teenage Girl Runner Eat? A teen girl runner needs about 2,400 calories per day, depending on age and activity level. Calories should come from healthy carbohydrates (not refined carbohydrates), lean proteins, and healthy fats.

How Many Calories Does a Teen Runner Burn Running a Mile? Teenagers can burn about 100 calories running a mile, depending on body weight and mile time. Teenagers burn about 10-17 calories per minute of running.

How Many Calories Does a 16 Year Old Runner Need? A 16-year old male runner needs 3,200 calories per day and a 16-year old female runner needs 2,400 calories per day.

What Happens if a Teenager Doesn’t Eat Enough Calories? If a teenager doesn’t eat enough calories their body will soon go into “starvation” mode meaning some lean body (muscle) mass is used for fuel, more fat is stored, and metabolism slows which makes it a lot harder to lose weight and be active. Active teens will feel fatigued earlier, have increased injuries, and have a harder time improving in their sport if they aren’t eating enough.

How Many Calories Should a High School Runner Eat? A high school runner needs about 2,400 calories per day (females) to 3,200 calories per day (males).

See Also

Need help for your running nutrition plan from a registered dietitian nutritionist? Check out my newest eBook: Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Athletes.


  • 40+ pages plus helpful infographics
  • 28-day meal plan to help you eat well and eat right
  • Healthy Snack list
  • Tips for Gaining or Losing Weight
  • Calculations for Daily Calorie Needs, Protein Needs, etc.
  • Supplement Recommendations
  • Meal Schedule
  • …And More


Children’s Health. Nutrition and sports performance: What young athletes should eat to perform their best. Accessed 2021. 

Children’s Health. Sports supplements for teen athletes. Accessed 2021. 

Children’s Health. The importance of hydration for young athletes. Accessed 2021. 

Ellis E. How Many Calories Does My Teen Need? Published October 4, 2019. 

Gavin ML. Feeding Your Child Athlete. Published January 2021. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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