The Importance of Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes

Young athletes train long hours for their sport. In order to optimize that training, proper nutrition needs to be a regular component of their workout plan. A car needs fuel to run properly just as people (especially young athletes) need a healthful eating plan.

Meal and snack planning takes extra time and is often pushed to the side due to hectic family schedules, but healthy eating has to be a priority. The benefits of a healthy eating plan include:

  • Injury prevention
  • Strengthening of the immune system
  • Decreased muscle tiredness and soreness
  • Muscle healing and recovery
  • Improved energy levels
  • Increased focus and attention span

What and when should you eat before practice or competition?

Your body needs a well-balanced meal or high calorie snack 3-4 hours prior to practice or competition to allow for proper digestion. For early morning events, try to eat at least 2 hours beforehand. Since many athletes have practice after school, make sure you bring a small snack to eat 30-60 minutes beforehand for an extra boost of energy.

Some popular snack ideas I recommend for my young athletes include:

  • Granola bar with nuts, grains, and dried fruit
  • Crackers with peanut butter
  • Applesauce squeeze pouch + nuts
  • Yogurt with granola
  • Fruit (banana, apple) and nuts
  • Baggie of trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  • Cheese stick and pretzels
  • Popcorn with peanuts or almonds
  • Half of a turkey, ham, or peanut butter sandwich

What should you eat after practice or competition?

After exercise, your body is like a sponge ready to absorb and replenish nutrients lost during your training session. Ideally, have a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes of completing the activity and if you only have a snack during that time, try to have a meal within 1-2 hours. This might mean a snack after late night practices and games too. If you have a long drive to and from practice, make sure you plan ahead!  Make your meal well-balanced with lean protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. If you are not able to eat solid food after exercising, try something liquid based like white milk, chocolate milk, or a fruit smoothie made with yogurt. Smoothies have a great balance of carbohydrates to protein, are cost efficient for teams, and portable for easy transport!

Don’t forget to hydrate.

Stick to water, milk, and 100% fruit juice as proper hydration methods

  • Limit juice to 4-6 ounces per day
  • Have 2-3 glasses of milk per day
  • Aim for at least 64-80 ounces of water per day
  • Sports drinks should be used when exercising longer than 60 minutes, especially for help in fueling during back to back games

For more meal and snack ideas check out, or listen to this PediaByte from our PediaCast podcast.

Jessica Buschmann, RD
Jessica Buschmann, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine. As part of her role at Nationwide Children’s, she provides nutrition services to Ohio Dominican University’s athletic teams and the general student population. She is registered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and licensed by the Ohio Board of Dietetics. Before joining the NCH Sports Medicine team, Jessica completed her Master’s degree at Marywood University in Sports Nutrition and Exercise Science. Jessica’s professional interests include Female Athlete Triad management and prevention, employee wellness, and meal planning for optimal sports performance. Jessica’s personal interests include anything outdoors, running, cooking with friends and family, grocery shopping (especially at Farmer’s Markets!), trying new restaurants around Columbus, spontaneous and planned traveling adventures, skydiving, and reading with a good cup of java in local coffee shops.

One thought on “The Importance of Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes

  1. Thanks for sharing this info. When it comes to young athletes and the amount of physical trauma they experience while their bodies are still developing, it’s important to make sure they’re prepared well enough to handle it all. By sticking to a nutritional diet that’s beneficial to maintaining a strong body, they should reduce the chance for injury quite a bit.

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