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Youth Athlete Nutrition - Fueling for Youth Athletes

So many young athletes go from school or camp to multiple sports practices without stopping to think much about the fuel they need to sustain their jam-packed schedules. I often see athletes in our 7:30pm classes who haven’t eaten much since lunch, or athlete’s with back to back evening sports practices who will be getting home late for dinner. Frequently by the end of the night, athlete’s who aren’t fueled properly are just moving through the motions. They likely aren’t getting the most out of their training or practices, from both performance and enjoyment aspects. If you’re an athlete reading this, you're probably old enough to take some ownership for your nutritional needs. If you’re a parent reading this, hopefully you can share some of this knowledge with your child and work together to make any adjustments to help them stay fueled.

Today I’m going to talk about timing snacks and meals around practice as opposed to the nitty gritty details. While I have a background in sports science and have co-taught some nutrition courses, I’m not a registered dietitian. Every person’s nutritional needs are different, and it’s great to consult with a professional before making major changes.

Most athlete’s, youth and otherwise, benefit from fueling with a snack or meal roughly every three hours. To sustain feeling satisfied and full, as well as to get adequate nutrients, it helps to have a mix of proteins, carbs and fats with each meal or snack. This can vary a bit as you start fueling before, during and after exercise. Immediately before exercise, you’ll want to avoid consuming large amounts of fat and protein as these take longer to digest and can occasionally cause an upset stomach when working out. Carbs are generally preferred before and during exercise as they are easier to digest and quicker sources of energy. Athlete’s may not need snacks during training, but if they have practices that extend multiple hours, snacking on some carbs in solid or liquid form can help them sustain their energy. After training, it’s crucial to get in a mix of protein and carbs. There’s a lot of evidence supporting a 3:1 or sometimes 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein, but if you currently aren’t fueling much after training, start simple by just making sure you’re getting both of these fuel sources in.

You might be wondering what to do if you are or have an athlete who has multiple practices back to back. It would be a great idea to have a “post-practice snack” after their first session. Protein helps rebuild and repair muscles so that our bodies can positively adapt to training, plus it helps us feel satiated. Having a small source of protein paired with some carbohydrates while heading to the next training session can help ensure athletes can make the most out of both sessions.

There’s a lot more detail we could dive into on the nuances of nutrition based on sport, age, gender, metabolism and a number of other factors, but the most important thing to focus on is getting enough fuel. Many athletes who don’t prioritize this suffer from low energy levels, poor adaptation to training and injuries. Below I’ve outlined a sample fueling schedule for a busy youth athlete.

7:00am: Breakfast


10:00am: Snack


12:30pm: Lunch


3:30pm: Pre-practice snack

Sport Practice

6:00pm: Post-practice snack

Youth Group Strength Training

8:00pm: Dinner

I’ve also included a couple of examples of what an athlete could snack on before, during and after a practice.

Before Practice (30-60 minutes before)

Easily digestible fruit, pretzels, toast, granola, cereal

During Practice (if multiple hours)

Coconut water, lightly sweetened sports drink or juice, dried fruit, pretzels, dry cereal

After Practice (15-45 minutes after)

Yogurt and fruit, smoothie with protein source, toast with nut butter or eggs, oats with nuts and seeds, any well-balanced full meal

Remember, proper nutrition varies by a number of different factors. Start simple and consult a registered dietitian before making any major changes.

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