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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Rock

How many calories do athletes need in a day?

Between training and growing, youth and teen athletes are burning a ton of energy. It seems only appropriate that they need a ton of calories. I mean, most nutrition labels are based on a 2000-calorie-a-day diet, and Michael Phelps was reported to consume 10,000 calories a day while training, so our kids must fall somewhere in the middle, right?

Unfortunately, the answer isn't quite that simple.

We need to back up for a second... and figure out what a calorie even is first.

By definition, a calorie is "a unit of energy equivalent to the heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C.

Ok... what does that mean? Every food from Cheetos to broccoli has been measured to account for its number of calories. In that regard, just like a pound of feathers weighs the same as a pound of bricks, 100 calories of broccoli has the energy equivalency of 100 calories of Cheetos.

Yeah, seems a little nuts. but true.

But, it also helps explain why the number of calories and the old myth that "my kids workout so much they can eat whatever they want" doesn't present the whole picture- or an appropriate answer- to fueling athletes.

Theoretically, some athletes could meet their calorie needs by eating a double cheeseburger, fries, and a pop every day for lunch... it doesn't mean, though, they're meeting their nutritional needs for performance and growth.

An athlete's consistency in meeting their individual needs for nutrient-dense macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, determines their endurance, strength, speed, energy, and focus more than focusing on a specific caloric number.

Likewise, an athlete's consistency in meeting their individual needs for nutrient-dense micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) determines the strength of their bones, tendons, ligaments, and immune system; the speed of their neurological pathways; their quality of sleep and their risk of injury more than focusing on a specific caloric number.

So, can we just jump on popular apps, plug in a few biometrics and determine how many macro & micronutrients they need?

Not quite.

While age, weight, and gender play a role in determining those numbers... so do the type of activity and duration of activity (which can change dramatically between practicing at home or a 5-game packed weekend).

The other factor missing from those apps (and why most specify they're for ages 18+) is the calculations that also address stages of puberty and growth.

That's why, when our calculations- specifically designated for athletes ages 7 to 18- determine an athlete's individual ranges for nutrients, we know if the athlete is meeting their macronutrient needs, they're meeting their caloric needs too (though if you're really intrigued to know that calorie range... our RP individual nutrition plans and personalized calculators give you that information too!).

Of course, meeting nutritional needs is only one pillar of the foundation.

How an athlete eats definitely affects performance, recovery, and growth.... but, their hydration, sleep, and mindset are equally important to creating a solid foundation strong enough to support their goals and health.

Wondering if your athlete is meeting their nutritional needs? Concerned that all four of their foundation pillars aren't solid enough to support their game and growth?

Let's chat! Click here with questions to see if Rock Performance is right for your athlete or family.


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