700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

The Importance of Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes

Apr 21, 2016

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, Healthy Meals and Snacks for the Busy Athlete or listen to this PediaByte from our PediaCast podcast.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Jessica Buschmann, RD
Sports Medicine

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.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.