Teenage Girls. Enough Said.


I recently spent an evening with ten-14 year old girls. We talked a lot about diets, healthy choices, body image and sports. (Interestingly enough, Nutella came up in conversation, more than once or twice.)

Body image is so subjective and easily influenced by the things we see and the reactions other people have toward us.   On this night, our focus was on the importance of a healthy body versus a skinny body. This group was unanimous that girls who had muscles looked better than girls with no muscle.

San Gabriel Valley Tribune's girl soccer player of the year April Juarez at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente on Thursday, March 31, 2011. (SGVN/Staff photo by Watchara Phomicinda/SPORTS)                                   Push Up girl

Girls are bombarded with pictures of wispy little things that can’t do a push-up, run a mile, throw a ball or consider playing a game of soccer.   It is perfectly acceptable if an active kid eats a healthy diet and is naturally thin, but it isn’t okay for any of us, but especially teenage girls, to be on crazy diets, eliminate whole food groups or feel like we need to “fast” just to fit into a pair of skinny jeans.

As our kids get older and become more responsible for what they eat, it is important to help them make the connection between food and performance, both mental and physical. This particular group of girls play sports (LaCrosse, Soccer, Volleyball) and they talked about how they felt and played better when they ate a healthy meal/snack before a practice or game versus when they ate a donut or candy bar.

Based on the food wrappers on the cabinet, crumbs on the floor and peanut butter smears on the counter top, I can tell my girls are starving when they get home from school.   They have soccer practice, dance or horseback riding four nights a week. They need a snack. It isn’t reasonable to go from lunch around noon to dinner around 6:30 pm without something to eat, but it isn’t healthy for candy bars to be the snack of choice.

Healthy snacks between meals ensures you have adequate fuel and energy to do the things you want to do.   Eating a snack with low nutritional value does not help you be smarter, stronger or healthier, but it can make result in weight gain, make you feel sluggish, tired and like you just don’t want to do anything! Too often, when a person realizes they have started to gain a little weight, they eliminate their snack, which is counter-productive. Dieting and limiting your food intake results in your body “hanging-on” to calories to prepare for the time of famine. You can’t lose weight when your body thinks it is starving!!

A few simple suggestions for snack time for you and your kids:

  • Make a list of your favorite snacks and place them on the fridge so don’t have to think about it. You can just choose from the list.
  • Control portion size by splitting out one serving size of snacks into plastic containers or baggies so you can grab and go and are not tempted to eat more than one serving.   (e.g., five whole grain chips, ½ c cherries or grapes, 1 oz cheese or cheese stick, 1 c popcorn, etc.)
  • Combine different food groups in your snack so you feel satisfied.  Include a cheese stick with fruit or add hummus to your chips or fresh vegies.
  • Half of the food you eat each day should be fruits and/or vegetables. Snack time is great opportunity to ensure you are getting in all of them.
  • Protein is an excellent for helping to stave off hunger. Make sure you eat lean meat or low fat dairy at snack time.
  • Eat 100% whole grain. There is no excuse not to do so. You can buy and portion out whole grain pretzels, crackers, bread, tortillas, etc.

Healthy Snack Ideas to Post on the Fridge:

  • Celery, Apples or Banana with peanut butter (2T = 1 Serving)
  • Whole Wheat Tortilla with Hummus (see recipe) spread on top
  • Cut-up vegetables with low fat salad dressing
  • Low fat yogurt or greek yogurt
  • Popcorn without butter (sprinkle with parmesan cheese)
  • Grapes, fresh or frozen with low fat string cheese
  • Rice cakes with lightly spread of peanut butter
  • Whole grain English muffin with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese
  • Cheese toast with whole grain bread & cheese toasted until golden
  • Whole grain cereal with milk
  • Whole wheat pretzels or crackers with a slice of cheese.
  • Smoothie
  • Edamame
  • Protein Snack Balls

This post is longer than my usual.  I hope you were able to make it through the whole thing!  After speaking with these great girls and as I think about summer, I realize that I need to make sure my girls have access to healthy snacks and begin to see the link between what they eat and how they feel/perform.

Let me know some of your heatlhy snack ideas for you and your kids!  I can add them to our fridge list.



Carbs are NOT Evil!

potato1_l         beans         BreadPasta

Carbs have been getting a bad rap the last few years.  Foods containing carbs can provide quick energy and can be stored in the muscle as glycogen and used as a longer term source of energy.  In reality, carbs can make a huge difference in game-time performance.  This is true for kids, adolescents and adult athletes.  The deal is, you have to eat the right kind of carbs to benefit from them.

There are two forms of carbohydrates:  simple and complex.  Simple sugars are in fruit, candy, cookies, sweet drinks, etc. and may provide quick energy.  Have noticed a young athlete half way through a game who looks like they just “hit the wall” or completely ran out of energy?  It could be poor conditioning or very possibly a kid coming off of a sugar rush!  Simple carbohdrates before an athletic event does not usually bode well for the athlete or the team.

On the other hand, complex carbs, aka starches (bread, pasta, rice), take longer to digest and allow athletes to sustain higher level of activity without muscle fatigue and decreased energy.  Complex carbs also contain minerals and vitamins required for for optimal energy and recovery.  (You’ve probably heard the term, Carb Loading.  It is referring to the intake of complex carbs before a swim meet, half- or full-marathon or other extended athletic event.  Please note, carb loading is not proven to be beneficial for young athletes or some women since they do not have the muscle mass to store  glycogen. )

I have not forgotten about protein.  It is also important, even though it should not be the main source of energy.   Depending on the type and extent of workout, your muscles work hard and breakdown.  Protein helps repair the muscle while helping to achieve muscle growth.   The sooner protein is consumed after an athletic event, the better for to help repair muscle damage.  Thus, the recommendation to drink chocolate milk!

Keep in mind, a large, large, large majority of people can eat an adequate amount of protein without eating or drinking supplements.  In fact, most athletes (kids and adults) eat about twice as much protien as they really need for muscle repair.  Excessive protein intake is not beneficial and may stress the kidneys, result in dehydration and weight gain.  (Protein that is not required by  the body is either broken down and wasted in urine or stored as fat.)

AnnikaSydneySoccer                          AnnikaSwim

So, what does a young athlete really need?  Depending on intensity and activity level, most adolescent athletes should eat betwen 20-27 calories/pound of body weight.  So, for a 100# kid, that would be 2000-2700 calories/day.  Typically, these calories should be 60-70% carbohydrate, 10% high biological value protein and 20-30% fat.

What does this look like for a 100# athlete eating between 2,000-2700 calories?  1,200-1650 carb calories, 200-270 protein calories and 300-400 fat calories.  The quality of the food as well as the timing of eating can also play a role in optimal performance on the court, field, pool or weight room.


Overall,  a daily diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole grains are best) with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats as well as low-fat dairy is best to meet energy needs and ensure adequate stores for peak performance.

A couple of hours to immediately before a game, match or meet:  String cheese, boiled egg or natural peanut butter with whole grain crackers, bananna or apple and peanut butter, greek yogurt. bagel with lean meat, low-fat cheese, trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and WATER.

Afterwards (1 hour max):  Chocolate milk (personal fav), greek yogurt, fruit with peanutbutter, meat and whole grain crackers and WATER.

Several hours later: A meal with complex carbs, lean meats and 20-30% fat will provide the optimal fuel for muscle repair and storage of energy (glycogen) for the next big event!

Using nutrition to enhance increase energy and athletic performance is not a new idea.  Nevertheless, it is one that is greatly undersused.   Give it a try.   Use science to help your athlete be prepared, perform at a higher level and recover more quickly.  Let me know how it goes.  I’d love to hear from you!



Working Out on an Empty Stomach

If you work out during the day or evening, you’ve probably eaten something throughout the day.  However, if you are an early morning exerciser,it may be more difficult to eat something.  I often work out at 5:30 am and I can tell you getting up even earlier to eat a healthy breakfast doesn’t happen.

Fact is, your body needs fuel to function at an optimal level.  Eating, in the morning before your workout, replinishes liver glycogen, stabilizes blood sugar so you can perform at a higher level and burn more calories.  After all, that is the goal.  Right?

Meal ideas for early morning workouts:  greek yogurt, banana or apple with peanut butter, cheese stick, boiled egg or a fruit/protein smoothie.


Chocolate Milk!

I have had three parents ask me in the last 5 days what I suggest kids drink/eat after a hard game.  My girls both play soccer.  An hour long game with lots running/sweating does not require special hydration/repletion.  Nevertheless, our “go-to” beverage is always chocolate milk.  Unless, of course, they convince us they need a chocolate milk shake!

Chocolate milk is perfect.  The protein, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral content of chocolate milk is ideal for replacing fluid loss and helping to repair sore muscles.  Other, less asked for suggestions, include:  Turkey sandwich on wheat bread, greek yogurt with fruit, apples or bannanas with peanut butter, cheese stick and whole wheat crackers.



Are your kids always asking for a sports or rehydration drink before, during or after playing a soccer game, swim meet or tennis match?  Do you wonder if they need it?  Do you know they don’t need it, but wonder if it is actually bad for them?

There are a lot of great scientific-based sources of information available, if you care to research the topic.  If not, I’ll give you the quick and dirty.

Dehydration occurs when an athlete (kid or adult) does not replace fluid lost through sweating.  If there is loss greater than two percent of body weight,  performance will be negatively impacted.

Hydration starts prior to an several hours before an athletic event.  Suggested guidelines to help prevent dehydration:

Before Activity:
Drink 4-8 oz of water one to two hours before activity.
Drink 4-8 oz of water 10-15 minutes before activity.

During Activity:
Drink 5-9 oz of water every 15-20 minutes.

After Activity:
Drink at least 24 ounces of water for every pound of weight lost within two hours after completion of activity.

Water is the best liquid to drink for optimal performance on and off the field/court/pool.   Many sports drinks/rehydration beverages contain added sugar and calories with no nutritional value.  In fact, they may exacerbate dehydration by causing GI distress (nausea/vomiting/diarrhea) .  Not good if there is another game in near future!

Dehydration may become a very serious condition requiring medical attention.   The following are signs your child may be dehydrated:

  • Dry lips and tongue
  • Sunken eyes
  • Bright colored or dark urine, or urine with a strong odor
  • Infrequent urination, or small volume of urine.
  • Apathy or lack of energy, Irritability
  • Sudden decline in performance

As a child becomes dehydrated, their heart rate increases, blood flow to the skin decreases, and body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. Heat-related illness is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency.  Don’t try to treat it yourself or take the wait-and-see attitude.  Seek medical help.