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Nutrition for Athletes


Soccer, football, and Lacrosse are in full swing right now, and one of our local football teams wanted some nutrition advice for their parents and players.   The kids who are serious about sports will know that they can have the advantage if they eat right as well as train hard.

Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes. This guide for sports nutrition will also fuel your athlete with confidence!

Eating for competition

Competition provides a reason for athletes to train, set and achieve goals, learn to work as a team and gives them a chance to shine. It is a time when the athlete wants to perform at their best and put in to play all the skills they have been working on over the last weeks and months.

For young athletes what they eat and drink before competition can make or break that important moment. If they are properly fueled and hydrated they will have that competitive edge. However, if they compete without their nutritional needs met and fully hydrated they will struggle to show how great they can be.

Week of competition

During the week before competition players need to eat a well balanced, nutritional diet.  Continue to drink plenty of water and replenish nutrients after practice. Carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, rice and pasta will work to replenish the glycogen levels after practice.

Young athletes

Cut back on “empty calories”. Foods high in saturated fats and sugars like candy, chips, baked treats and fast food can cause sluggishness.

Day of competition

Timing is important!

Make sure you eat before you compete! Eat 2-4 hours before competition.  Don’t expect your body to perform well without providing it with the nutrients and fuel it needs to do its job. Muscles rely on glycogen storage to have the energy they need to keep going.  Don’t come to your game without eating a good breakfast.

Doughnut and chocolate milk on the way to the game is not a good breakfast.  Prepare yourself with whole grain, lean protein and a fruit.

  • Whole wheat bagel with scrambled eggs and a slice of ham, fruit, and milk
  • Oatmeal, 1/2 cup of yogurt and piece of fruit
  • Pancakes topped with fruit, eggs, sausage and a glass of juice

Plan to have a snack like a protein bar, granola bar or fruit prior to competition if you will be competing a couple hours after breakfast. Keep meals and snacks simple. If your competition is later in the day, eat a good meal a couple hours before your game.

  • Ham or Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, celery sticks with peanut butter and water
  • Triple Decker PB&J on multi grain bread with carrots with  dip, piece of fruit and water
  • Grilled Chicken wrap loaded with lettuce and veggies. Drizzle with your favorite dressing, water

If you are spending time traveling or watching other games it is easy to forget to stay hydrated and provide the nutrients you need. Plan ahead and pack food and water with you. *If you are packing food make sure to keep food at correct temperatures. Sandwiches with meat need to stay cold.

Nutritional preparation for a player that is nervous.

If your player is nervous and feels they can not eat  before competition, encourage them to have something simple. For example

  • a fruit smoothie (you could also add a little protein powder)
  • flavored milk or instant breakfast
  • oatmeal (instant with the added sugar and flavor is great )
  • Yogurt

If nerves are really bad resort to bland food like plain oatmeal, cream of wheat, graham or plain crackers and a sports drink with sugar not the G2 or Lite drinks. They need the extra carbohydrate to help fuel their muscles.

Prepared by Kristi Strongo for Westlake Thunder.

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

Learn More about Natalie

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These are some really good tips. I find that when I was younger, whenever I ate crap before a game, I typically played just as well. So, because of that, I tried not to eat junk food beforehand.

Great tips for high school athletes. Wished I had known about this back when I was competing in high school. I always get butterflies before a match and I’m sure a smoothie or oatmeal might have calmed my nerves.

What needs to be addressed is what’s brought TO games/practice/tournaments. It makes me sick to see parents bringing donuts, granola bars, pizza, Gatorade, cookies and other crap for kids to eat. Why on earth would you want your young athlete to ingest garbage when they need to perform at their best? Or, for that matter, why would you want then to eat that stuff EVER??? And when you’re a parent who doesn’t give your kids that stuff, you put us in a bad position socially. Parents need to consider when bringing 3 dozen donuts to a lacrosse tournament that other parents may not be ok with that.

Nutrition for child athletes is very important. This is a very informative article on the topic. I would also recommend getting regular checkups with pediatricians so that you can ensure your child is healthy and getting the nutrition they need.

Wonderful tips for helping young athletes eat better. While all kids are different, I think that the suggestions you provided here can be a good basis to work off.