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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Rock

3 things you need to know about the teenage brain...

What was he thinking? I've told her a hundred times! I thought we already solved this problem? GO TO BED!!

Odds are good that if you're around teenagers often, you've likely said at least one of the above... maybe even all of them.

I mean, really, the answers make logical sense to us... what the hell is wrong with them, right?

Short answer? Nothing.

Tough answer? Us.

Hold on! It's not that our expectations of them are too high, it's that we're expecting them to react, respond, and reason the way we - as adults- would.

Physiologically, though, that can't happen.

Although structurally similar, an adolescent brain is not a miniature version of an adult brain.

Here's three of the many differences between a teenage brain and an adult brain...

  1. First, regardless if the teenager is "done" growing, the brain isn't finished developing until approximately age 25. Specifically, the final portion of the brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex... the region for reason. Simply, a growing brain has the capacity for emotions, pleasure, and risk... but not a system that says "Hang on, that might not be a great idea. Let's think about this response."

  2. Granted, these pathways (from the emotional amygdala to the reasoning frontal cortex) exist, they're just under major construction. Myelination that speeds up neurological impulses & connections are still forming until age 25-ish. Consider the growing brain like a dirt road as opposed to the adult freshly paved highway. To avoid a tire blowout, travel (information, in this case) is much slower and inefficient.

  3. Just like we use nourishing foods to prepare the body's best environment for developing physical strength, the same is essential for supporting brain growth and health.

Consuming nutrient-dense foods (especially high quality carbohydrates and fats) allows the "construction crew" to effectively build these neurological pathways, as opposed to nutrient-poor foods that are as efficient as paving the roads during sleet and snow.

In addition to supporting brain development, nutrient-dense fats help

  • regulate hormones

  • improve memory

  • provide energy

  • minimize acne

  • support mental health

  • reduce inflammation

So, which nutrient-dense foods should our athletes consume on a regular basis to create a growth-rich environment?

  • avocado

  • salmon

  • nuts & seeds

  • olive oil

  • tofu

  • edamame

  • hard cheese: parmesan, cheddar

  • coconut

  • steel cut oats

  • quinoa / farro

  • chickpeas/ beans / legumes

Keep in mind, although a good energy source, fats are slow to digest. Athletes should minimize consumption of fats 1-3 hours prior to practice or games.

What about your night owl athletes? That's another physiological difference... the "time to sleep hormone" melatonin kicks in about two hours LATER in a teenage brain than a developed adult brain. And... the hormone stays in their system longer- which partially explains why getting up in the morning can be excruciatingly difficult for some kids.

Wondering if your athlete's food choices support their game and their growth? Looking for recipes or fueling ideas for your athlete or particular eater? Need help managing sleep habits? Contact me HERE or at


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