The 8 best healthy foods for teenage athletes to gain weight and maintain peak athletic performance. Don’t load up on junk food– eat these foods instead!
Even though obesity rates in children are on the rise, many parents of young athletes are concerned that their child is underweight. I hear this a ton from parents, especially parent’s of young boys that want to bulk up for their sport.
Although this post is intended for young athletes, these same rules apply to adults that need to gain weight. If you’re struggling with fueling for your sport, check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
Why you shouldn’t eat junk food to gain weight
You are probably thinking, “Not a bad problem to have. Bring on the pizza, fries, and ice cream!”, but not so fast. Many children and parents try to rectify the problem of being thin by eating massive amounts of “junk” foods.
Unfortunately, these foods are high in saturated fat and sugar and lack any nutrients. As a matter of fact, binging on these types of high calorie food will do more harm than good, even if your child is underweight. Here’s a few reasons why:
- Like adults, children need to properly fuel their workouts. Many parents think that young children have inherent energy, but that energy will only last for part of a practice or game. Fueling properly before a practice or game ensures that their energy will last, which will keep them performing at their best.
- Very high fat foods, like fast food burgers, fried foods, donuts, cookies, pastries, etc., take a long time to digest. That means they sit in the stomach for a long time and can cause digestive issues during a workout.
- It’s incredibly important for children to establish proper eating habits at a young age. Teaching children that they can eat whatever they want without any negative consequences establishes a pattern of unhealthy eating. Although your child may be long and lanky now, they will likely fill out later in life. Bad eating habits can lead to overweight or obesity in adulthood.
- Children need to eat healthy foods during their growing years. A diet filled with high calorie junk food can cause a deficiency in calcium, iron and many essential vitamins. This can put your child at risk for anemia, broken bones, stunted growth and everyday illnesses that will keep them on the sidelines.
The 8 best foods for healthy weight gain
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to stay away from high calorie “junk” food, but I’m sure you still want to help bulk up your athlete. Don’t worry- I have 8 foods that are high in calories and filled with nutrients.
One avocado has about 250 calories, but that’s not all. There are 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid, and “healthy” fats in avocados. Healthy fats boost cognition and heart health.
2. Nuts & Nut Butter
All nuts vary in calorie content, but 1 ounce of nuts has around 180 calories. Nuts, especially tree nuts like as almonds, cashews and walnuts have been linked to lower cholesterol, better heart health and a healthy weight.
Walnuts are high in omega-3, an essential fatty acid that helps fight inflammation after exercise. Peanut butter (one of my favorites) has about 200 calories in 2 tablespoons. Opt for the natural varieties that contain just peanuts and salt.
Chomping on nuts for a healthy snack is a great way to get in some extra calories. If you looking to spice things up, try these nutty recipes:
- Cinnamon Roasted Almonds
- Peanut Butter Pretzel Date Balls
- Walnut Romesco Sauce
- Banana Chia Oats Cups with Walnuts
3. Whole Milk
An 8-ounce glass of whole milk contains 150 calories. Dairy is one of my favorite food groups because of its many nutrients. Not only is milk, yogurt and cheese high in protein, it also contains 9 essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium and Vitamin D for growing bones.
Feel free to allow young athletes to indulge in chocolate or vanilla milk. Whole fat Greek yogurt is also a great source of protein and calories.
4. Fatty Fish
Three ounces of salmon (about the size of your palm) has 120 calories. Usually I’m preaching about portion control, but any child that needs to gain weight can have a big helping of fish. Not only will 5-6 ounces get them 200+ calories, but they will also get a large helping of omega-3s, which can boost academic performance.
One cup of cooked quinoa has 220 calories and 1-cup of cooked brown rice has 250 calories. Both are packed with fiber and protein, which help with growth and development. Protein is especially important for young athletes who hope to gain some muscle mass.
Both grains make a great side dish for any piece of protein. But if you want to spice up your cooking routine, try some of these options:
- Vegan Quinoa Sushi Bowl
- Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Honey-Lime Vinaigrette
- Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower Rice Bowl
- Coconut Fried Rice
- Butternut Squash Risotto
A 1.3 ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 190 calories. Dark chocolate in its purest form (without added sugar) is high in antioxidants that protect against inflammation.
However, the dark chocolate that we buy from the store has sugar added into it, which makes it something that should be eaten in moderation.
7. Olive oil
One tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories. This staple in the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a healthy heart and an overall decreased risk for disease. That may not seem important for kids now, but think about later in life!
Add a tablespoon to pasta, veggies or a smoothie for added calories and a rich taste.
Both white and sweet potatoes add nutrients to the diet, like healthy carbs and potassium. Plus, they taste great, so it’s likely that your young athlete will be happy to eat them.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, make a potato bar for dinner– put out healthy topping, like ground turkey, cheese, sour cream, salsa and chives and let them build their own baked potato. Or if you prefer a recipe, check out these Dill Potato Wedges and Sweet & Smoky Roasted Root Vegetables.
If you are concerned about your child athlete being underweight, try adding any of these foods to their diet before hitting the fast food joint. The result will be faster, healthier, happier athletes!
Want more info on what to feed your child athlete? Download the 75 Best Foods For Runners–a great starting point for all athletes– below and start cooking!