Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes

Protein requirements are slightly higher but can be got from the diet.  Protein supplements are not necessary and could be damaging for developing organs.

There is no “miracle supplement” that enhances performance.  What does make a difference is the athlete’s overall diet and the timing of meals.  Young athletes need to get a least 50% of their energy from carbohydrate.

Good nutrition is essential to support an athlete’s growth, strength and stamina.  Parents and coaches can also use this information to help young athletes feel energetic and perform at their best.


Before the Match:

  • Young athletes are more susceptible to dehydration and overheating than adults.  Encourage them to drink 6-8 cups of fluid during the day and top up with a glass of water 30 minutes before exercise.
  • Make sure they eat enough before a match.  When events are separated by 3 hours or more, a high carbohydrate, low fat meal can be eaten.  See Winning Meals at Home for ideas.
  • When there is a 1-2 hours to a match, easily digestible high carbohydrate snacks such as bagels, low fat yoghurt, fruit and crackers as well as fluid are best.

During the Match:

  • During exercise regular fluids are hugely important, ideally every 15-20 minutes.  A small snack can also be useful.
  • Eat a smell snack one hour before training or competition.
  • Choose foods that are familiar and well tolerated before competitive events.  New foods can be tried before practice sessions to see what works best.
  • Choose foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, cereal, fruits, vegetables and low fat yoghurt or milk.
  • Avoid eating high-fat foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, donuts and cheese before activity.  High fat foods take longer to digest and may cause discomfort if eaten to close to the start of a practice or competition.
  • Avoid sugary foods, such as fizzy drinks, sweets and chocolate bars right before the match.  They provide a little energy boost but it doesn’t last long and leaves athletes drained.

After the Match:

  • After exercise give young athletes a drink straightaway – water or diluted fruit juice are best drinks – followed by a high carbohydrate and protein snack to promote recovery if there is another match in the next 8hrs.
  • After exercise they should drink freely until no longer thirsty.
  • Young athletes should not need vitamin & mineral supplements if they have a balanced diet
  • Poor food choices after the match results in a sluggish performance for the next training session or match.


The Importance of Hydration:

Fluid replacement is a key part of a winning sports nutrition plan.  Unlike adults, young athletes have a harder time cooling their body during activity.  This means they have a greater chance of becoming dehydrated.

Dehydration can affect muscle strength, endurance, co-ordination and can lead to muscle cramps, exhaustion and heat stroke.  Thirst is not a good cue of how much water the body needs.  By the time thirst is felt, an athlete is already becoming dehydrated.

Hydration Tips for Athletes:

  • Athletes should carry their own water bottle.  It’s a reminder to drink up!
  • Water is the best source of fluid as the body absorbs it quickly.
  • Beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks and cola, should be avoided.  Caffeine increase the chances of dehydration.

Top Hydration Tips:

  • Well before activity: Athletes should drink 400-600ml of water to be fully hydrated
  • During activity: Athletes should drink 150-350ml of water every 15-20 minutes
  • After activity: Athletes should drink plenty of water to replace water lost from sweating

Facts about Sports Drinks:

Sports drinks are not needed for many sporting activities.  These drinks are made for athletes who have been exercising and sweating intensely for 90 minutes or more.  They are high in sugar and acid and can harm teeth, especially if sipped on for long periods of time.  Water is the best drink for athletes at minor sports practices and games.  Instead of a sports drink, try water and a carbohydrate-rich snack.  Ideas are listed below.


Packable Snacks:

Snacks in vending machines and snack booths are often high in fat and sugar.  Encourage athletes to make healthier choices.  Here are some healthy snacks that are easy to carry in the gym bag:

  • Banana or oatmeal muffins
  • Wholegrain crackers, half a bagel or pita bread
  • Oatcakes or rice cakes
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit and raisin mixes
  • Healthier choice granola bars
  • Pretzels or breadsticks
  • Milk-based puddings e.g. rice pudding or custard
  • Yoghurt drinks or milkshakes

Winning Meals at Home:

  • Spaghetti bolognaise with salad, low fat yoghurt
  • Roast beef sandwich on wholegrain bun with tomato and lettuce, milk
  • Grilled chicken, carrots, baked potato, fruit cup, milk
  • Cereal with banana, whole wheat toast, orange juice   iStock_000016607616XSmall