Nutrition for Teen Female Runners

Consuming plenty of calories can help female teen runners stay healthy and increase energy levels during runs. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, active girls ages 9 to 13 need 1,800 to 2,200 calories, while active teenage girls ages 14 to 18 require 2,400 calories each day. However, teenage athletes who run long distances of more than 4 miles per day may require additional calories.

Female teen runners should aim to consume no less than the RDA for all nutrients. Protein RDAs are 34 grams for girls ages 9 to 13, and 46 grams each day for teen girls ages 14 to 18, according to the Institute of Medicine. According to Pamela M. Nisevich, MS, RD, LD, in the March 2008 issue of “Today’s Dietitian,” young endurance athletes require 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram, or about 0.55 to 0.64 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. High-protein foods include lean meats, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, soy products, seitan, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, teenage girls have an increased risk for developing an iron deficiency. Iron-deficiency anemia can cause fatigue, lightheadedness and dizziness and can severely affect a teen girl’s running performance. The iron RDA for girls ages 9 to 13 is 8 milligrams; for teen girls ages 14 to 18 the RDA is 15 milligrams per day. Iron-rich foods include red meat, dark meat chicken and turkey, fish, legumes, iron-fortified cereals, soybeans, raisins and spinach. Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption from plant-based foods; iron in meats, poultry and fish is absorbed well in the body. Your pediatrician may recommend an iron-rich multivitamin supplement if you are unable to meet your needs through diet alone.

It’s important for female teen runners get enough calcium in their diet; this builds strong bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. The TeensHealth website reports that many teens consume too little calcium, and teen athletes may need more calcium than sedentary teens. The calcium RDA for girls ages 9 to 18 is 1,300 milligrams per day. Calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese and foods fortified with calcium. These may include soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified orange juice and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals.

Iron Deficiency

As a runner, you need to be informed of your unique iron needs.
An iron deficiency is one of those nasty conditions that can disguise itself as being overtrained or under-rested. A drop in performance, an onslaught of fatigue, runners watch as their running takes a nose-dive and there seems to be no ‘logical’ reason as to why.
Getting a blood panel as soon as you notice a dramatic change in your running is typically one of the first suggestions from a coach, with iron levels being one of those red flags to watch out for, particularly for females. “For someone going through these types of situations, the first thing I would ask is about their sleep, nutrition, iron, etc.,” says Kelly McDonald, assistant coach at Cal Poly.
For competitors asking their bodies to perform at one hundred percent, even a ten percent drop in how one feels is a lot — call it the athlete’s magnification glass to the layman’s perception of tired.

Exhausted? Take a second look at your blood tests.
Ferritin is an intracellular protein that stores iron in the body and releases it in a controlled fashion. The amount of ferritin stored is reflective of the amount of iron stored. For runners in training, the ‘normal’ recommended ferritin levels are markedly different from their sedative counterparts. If you don’t have a physician used to working with athletes, they may wind up telling you that you are in the ‘normal’ range and have nothing to worry about when, in fact, an iron deficiency may be hampering your training. Thus, as a runner, you need to be informed of your unique needs and be sure to speak up to your doctor.

What is ‘normal’?

For the average person, normal ferritin levels are quantified as 12-300 nanograms per milliter (ng/ml) for men and 12-150 ng/ml for women. To put it bluntly, an athlete running with a 12 ng/ml ferritin level will be feeling the effects of anemia and their training will be suffering. Runners need to be much higher on that scale.
“Every athlete is different in terms of levels,” says McDonald. “I’ve seen athletes build their ferritin level to above 20 and they feel great, while others don’t perform well until 40.” Still others elite athletes will aim for levels upwards of 70 or 100 ng/ml. Part of figuring out what your ideal ferritin level is involves getting your blood work checked regularly throughout your training phases. “As an athlete I liked to get checked prior to each season and also after, to see if my levels increased or decreased,” McDonald said.

How to Get Iron-Heavy Blood

The first place to start would be to seek out iron-rich foods such as spinach, red meats, clams, oysters, and liver. Even then, most runners should be supplementing on top of that. With the rigors competitive athletes put their bodies through in training, diet alone is typically not enough to reach adequate iron levels.
Pills: This is the easiest place to start; iron pills can be found over the counter and may also be labeled as ferritin or ferrous glycinate. Talk with your doctor and coach to come up with a dosage that fits your situation; dosages depend on gender, weight and iron level, but 1-2 doses of 65mg of elemental iron has worked for many runners when they are in maintenance mode. CAUTION: Ingesting too much iron too fast will leave you feeling sick and is potentially dangerous. Gradually increase your iron dosage and if you’re taking multiples, spread them throughout the day. Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption and taking Calcium at the same time will inhibit it. “A plan that I’ve seen effective is taking iron daily an hour after dinner with orange juice, not with calcium!” explains McDonald.