Nutrition Tips to Set Your Young Athlete up for Success

It is so important to eat healthy, and it’s even more important for athletes. Most people know this, but they either weren’t taught and don’t know what to do, they have little time, or they have limited resources. For those of you who weren’t taught, Youtube is AMAZING for picking up new skills. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like that recipe-so try a different one next time. For those with little time, pick a day to plan out what you’re going to have for the week and go shopping once for the ingredients you need. Seriously, planning ahead can save you so much time- how much time does your family spend asking each other “what should we make tonight?” I’ve been there and it can be incredibly frustrating; pick a protein and then plan the rest of the meal around that. Pinterest is great for finding recipes. Those with limited resources: it is much more costly to buy already prepared foods. ALDI is great for finding low priced ingredients. I suggest that you shop with the sales of the week. Also, people make blogs to help people spend less of meals; check out this blog

Do you have a picky eater and whenever you try to introduce something new they turn up their nose? If your family mostly eats over-flavored foods, which are most already prepared foods, junk foods, etc., then it will take some time to adjust. I encourage you to move away from these kinds of things and encourage them to always try it, especially with really young kids. 

Now to the goods.

The best time for an athlete to refuel with carbohydrates is within the first 4 hours of finishing their activity. The body is most responsive to storing carbohydrates to use for fuel later within this time frame. Consuming a high amount of carbs past this window isn’t particularly helpful. The higher intensity the practice/sport, the more fuel that will be required. As a generalization, ~50 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed after activity. You should also consider whether your athlete is in the middle of their growth spurt, which will also increase the need for energy.

Examples of carbohydrates includes:

  • Fruit juice (~17 fl oz)
  • Any variation of a PB&J sandwich
  • 2 sports bars (ex. cliff bar, kind bar)
  • 1 or 2 muffins with fruit (examples such as a banana bread recipe made using muffin tin)
  • Baked potato
  • Pancakes
  • Oatmeal
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Muscle during exercise is subject to breakdown and requires some sort of fuel to support the rebuilding of that muscle over the next 24 hours. Muscles require amino acids, which are found in proteins. If your athlete is trying to build muscle mass, the best form to consume is liquid protein (like protein shakes), meats, and/or eggs. The best time to consume protein is within the first hour post-activity. As a generalization, consume ~20-25 grams of protein post activity. One boneless, skinless chicken breast contains ~31 g of protein.

Examples of protein rich foods include:

  • Cooked lean beef/pork/lamb
  • Skinless cooked chicken
  • Canned tuna/salmon or cooked fish
  • 10 fl oz of milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • 4 pieces of bread/toast
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Pasta or Rice
  • lentils

I found a great recipe from GimmeSomeOven for protein balls that don’t require any baking and are delicious and so easy to make! Best yet, they’re filled with protein AND carbs. You can find the recipe here

If your athlete feels weak or very fatigued, they might not be consuming enough to fuel their bodies. Consider increasing their intake and improving the timing of meal consumption to the suggested time frames above.

Lastly, consider the amount of water and sodium lost when an athlete sweats. A general guide for a person on a day to day basis will need to consume 50% of their body weight in ounces. An athlete should consume more than that, ~60-65% of their weight in ounces of water. Calculate this by following this example: athlete weighing 110 lbs x 60% = 66 ounces of water per day. The best way to drink water is by sipping (take a sip every minute). Drinking water this way will help decrease the amount lost through urination and decrease the discomfort on the digestive system.

Lastly, make sure your young athletes get enough sleep. Sleep is the time when most of the repairs of the body happen. Set your athlete (or yourself) up for success by following these tips for refueling, rehydrating, and resting.


AIS Sports Nutrition. Recovery nutrition. Australian Sports Commission 2009. Available: nutrition/factsheets/competition_and_training/recovery_nutrition

Don't miss these posts:

The content contained in blog posts are for general information and advice and is not an establishment of a doctor-patient relationship. While we strive to bring you information based on evidence and from practice experience, please consider the information shared at your discretion.