Top 15 nutrition tips for youth athletes from dietitians and trainers | Youth1

Top 15 nutrition tips for youth athletes from dietitians and trainers

When you have a youth athlete, providing him or her with proper nutrition is of the utmost importance. But with so many diet trends and food fads, it can sometimes be hard to separate marketing tactics from reality.

And since every athlete has different needs, how can you know which foods are best for your family?

Many parents ask this same question. That’s why we’ve rounded up these 15 tips from dietitians and trainers to share some of the best advice in youth nutrition today.

Add Nuts and Seeds to Daily Snacks

To stay energized on the field, it’s important that your athlete has enough protein and fiber. Jill Castle at The Nourished Child recommends adding nuts to yogurt or grabbing a handful on the way to practice. If your athlete is allergic to or doesn’t like nuts, seeds are a solid substitute. Seeds offer the same healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E as nuts, and they can be easily added to everyday, on-the-go meals.

Load Up On H2O

When a person engages in physical activity, their body temperature rises. Sweating is the body’s natural response to this spike in temperature, and it helps the body cool down. Since youth athletes are raising their temperatures often, they also sweat more and lose a greater amount of fluids.

As a parent, it’s important to help your youth athlete get enough water. Nutrition expert Brooke De Lench says that athletes need to drink before, during and after exercise in order to stay hydrated. De Lench also says that drinking fluids containing salt, like sports drinks, can increase voluntary drinking and prevent dehydration.

Get Ahead of Their Metabolisms

Metabolisms are unique and vary across individuals. Kimberly Lackey at Empath Coaching suggests tracking your athlete’s metabolism to determine the best times for a meal or snack.

“Listen to reports from teachers, coaches, tutors and after-school staff to see if there is consistency in performance at certain times, or potential behavior issues that repeat at the same time each day,” Lackey says. “Healthy snacking during those times, and the right breakfast, could be just the cure you and your child are looking for.”

Consider a Protein Supplement When Needed

Between practice, class and competition, youth athletes are busy. This can often make it hard for athletes to get the nutrients they need, especially protein. Registered dietician nutritionist Jenna Braddock explains that protein powder can be a healthy choice for teen athletes — but only in the right context.

Braddock suggests that youth athletes in the following situations might benefit from protein powder:

those who struggle to eat the right quantity and quality of food,
those who want to gain strength and power as a result of training,
and those who get sick often.

Load Up on Healthy Carbs

We all know that processed grains and white bread are lacking in nutrition. But did you know they can also be detrimental to a youth athlete's performance?

Physical therapy office COR explains that slow-acting carbs, like bagels and pizza, take a long time to digest. When they do, they suck your energy and make you tired.

Therefore, it’s smarter to send your athlete off to practice with fast-acting carbs in their bag. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains digest much faster, offering a helpful spike in energy soon after eating them.
 

Educate Them About Nutrition

As a parent, you’re always going to try your best to feed your athlete healthy, energizing food. But what’s equally important is helping them adopt healthy habits for life.

Olympian and True Sport ambassador Cody Miller suggests taking youth athletes shopping and showing them what’s healthy. When they get a first-hand learning experience about what they should and shouldn’t be eating, they’re much more likely to develop a habit that sticks for life.

Take Fruits and Veggies to Go

One of the main reasons many youth athletes don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables is because they don’t have time. But with a little creativity and effort, you can quickly turn the most healthy foods into a gra- and-go snack for the whole team.

Registered dietitian and mom Sally Kuzemchak suggests putting cherries, grapes and snap peas in small paper cups. She also suggests fruit kebabs, raisins, melons, and individual bags of sliced peppers and celery sticks.

These options only take a few more minutes to prepare than an unhealthy snack, and the health benefits far exceed the minor additional effort.

Pay Attention to Nutrients

For athletes who exert themselves on a regular basis, getting the right nutrients is vital for optimal health. The Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute says that the correct amount of nutrients helps youth athletes achieve linear growth as they get older (meaning they grow taller instead of wider).

Growth-promoting nutrients include iodine, which is good for brain function; and zinc, which is also involved in cognitive outcomes. DHA and vitamin A also work together to develop a teen’s nervous system.

Brush Up on Nutrient Deficiencies

Iron deficiency affects girls and women of all ages, but it can be particularly damaging for female youth athletes. Elizabeth I. Ransom of the Population Reference Bureau suggests that parents of teen girls educate themselves about the side effects of low iron.

Two side effects of iron deficiency that are often dismissed are lethargy and depression. These initial signs get brushed off as side effects of being a moody teenager. Other common ailments that teenage girls face include Iodine and vitamin A deficiencies, plus the anemia that can result from having low iron.

Eat Larger Meals and Snack More Often

Just like a car that runs out of gas, a youth athlete without enough food simply won’t be able to go on. Sports Dieticians Australia suggests avoiding burnout and fatigue by feeding your athlete larger meals with more frequent snack breaks throughout the day.

It’s also important that athletes create a habit of eating these larger meals to ensure they’re getting proper nutrients. Sports Dieticians Australia adds that teens “should adopt eating patterns that provide a regular spread of high quality protein sources over the day.”

Refuel the Right Way

Loading up on pizza and pasta after a game sure does satiate hunger, but author and dietitian Molly Morgan suggests refueling with something healthier. A submarine on whole grain bread, with deli meats and vegetables, is a tasty choice that offers protein and nutrients.

Smoothies filled with fruit, yogurt and milk are also healthy ways to regain energy. These high-protein and high-fiber foods aid the body in recovering muscles as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Stay Diligent in the Offseason

Most student athletes don’t think twice about grabbing a bag of Doritos or chugging a Mountain Dew come summertime. Speed and strength training specialist company TC Boost says that this can be a major deterrent to performance once preseason rolls around.

Eating healthily and staying hydrated is harder when students aren’t around their teammates, but committing to consistent healthy habits will keep your athlete performing at his or her best for as long as possible.

Pregame the Game

NYU sports dietician Ryan Turner doesn’t take pre-game meals lightly. “Pre-game nutrition should be viewed as supplemental to the fueling you do throughout the rest of the day,” he says.

And depending on the sport your athlete plays, he or she should be able to start the game with a solid 60 minutes of high-intensity activity. So, whenever your athlete has a game, be sure to plan the meal that comes before it accordingly.

Prep Meals Weekly

Board-certified sports dietitian Kelly Jones is a big advocate of meal preparation for college student athletes. Jones’ prep strategy can also be applied to high school athletes, especially those working toward a career in college sports.

In addition to saving time and keeping your athlete healthy in a rush, meal preparation also ensures that your athlete diversifies his or her meals. When someone is eating different meals throughout the week, their body gains a more diverse intake of nutrients and minerals. 

Get to Know Good Fats

Fats are vital to a healthy brain and strong muscles. We’re not talking about oversaturated fat from a hamburger and fries, though; we’re talking about healthy, undersaturated fats from nuts and fish.

In Mochi Magazine, health educator Mary Lomax explains that youth athletes need good fats for long-lasting fuel. She adds that healthy fats “contribute to a fully functioning body” and support vital processes such as cell growth and hormone production.

images by: When you have a youth athlete, providing him or her with proper nutrition is of the utmost importance. But with so many diet trends and food fads, it can sometimes be hard to separate marketing tactics from reality. And since every athlete has different needs, how can you know which foods are best for your family? Many parents ask this same question. That’s why we’ve rounded up these 15 tips from dietitians and trainers to share some of the best advice in youth nutrition today. Add Nuts and Seeds to Daily Snacks To stay energized on the field, it’s important that your athlete has enough protein and fiber. Jill Castle at The Nourished Child recommends adding nuts to yogurt or grabbing a handful on the way to practice. If your athlete is allergic to or doesn’t like nuts, seeds are a solid substitute. Seeds offer the same healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E as nuts, and they can be easily added to everyday, on-the-go meals. Load Up On H2O When a person engages in physical activity, their body temperature rises. Sweating is the body’s natural response to this spike in temperature, and it helps the body cool down. Since youth athletes are raising their temperatures often, they also sweat more and lose a greater amount of fluids. As a parent, it’s important to help your youth athlete get enough water. Nutrition expert Brooke De Lench says that athletes need to drink before, during and after exercise in order to stay hydrated. De Lench also says that drinking fluids containing salt, like sports drinks, can increase voluntary drinking and prevent dehydration. Get Ahead of Their Metabolisms Metabolisms are unique and vary across individuals. Kimberly Lackey at Empath Coaching suggests tracking your athlete’s metabolism to determine the best times for a meal or snack. “Listen to reports from teachers, coaches, tutors and after-school staff to see if there is consistency in performance at certain times, or potential behavior issues that repeat at the same time each day,” Lackey says. “Healthy snacking during those times, and the right breakfast, could be just the cure you and your child are looking for.” Consider a Protein Supplement When Needed Between practice, class and competition, youth athletes are busy. This can often make it hard for athletes to get the nutrients they need, especially protein. Registered dietician nutritionist Jenna Braddock explains that protein powder can be a healthy choice for teen athletes — but only in the right context. Braddock suggests that youth athletes in the following situations might benefit from protein powder: those who struggle to eat the right quantity and quality of food, those who want to gain strength and power as a result of training, and those who get sick often. Load Up on Healthy Carbs We all know that processed grains and white bread are lacking in nutrition. But did you know they can also be detrimental to a youth athlete's performance? Physical therapy office COR explains that slow-acting carbs, like bagels and pizza, take a long time to digest. When they do, they suck your energy and make you tired. Therefore, it’s smarter to send your athlete off to practice with fast-acting carbs in their bag. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains digest much faster, offering a helpful spike in energy soon after eating them. [Img: Softball] Educate Them About Nutrition As a parent, you’re always going to try your best to feed your athlete healthy, energizing food. But what’s equally important is helping them adopt healthy habits for life. Olympian and True Sport ambassador Cody Miller suggests taking youth athletes shopping and showing them what’s healthy. When they get a first-hand learning experience about what they should and shouldn’t be eating, they’re much more likely to develop a habit that sticks for life. Take Fruits and Veggies to Go One of the main reasons many youth athletes don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables is because they don’t have time. But with a little creativity and effort, you can quickly turn the most healthy foods into a gra- and-go snack for the whole team. Registered dietitian and mom Sally Kuzemchak suggests putting cherries, grapes and snap peas in small paper cups. She also suggests fruit kebabs, raisins, melons, and individual bags of sliced peppers and celery sticks. These options only take a few more minutes to prepare than an unhealthy snack, and the health benefits far exceed the minor additional effort. Pay Attention to Nutrients For athletes who exert themselves on a regular basis, getting the right nutrients is vital for optimal health. The Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute says that the correct amount of nutrients helps youth athletes achieve linear growth as they get older (meaning they grow taller instead of wider). Growth-promoting nutrients include iodine, which is good for brain function; and zinc, which is also involved in cognitive outcomes. DHA and vitamin A also work together to develop a teen’s nervous system. Brush Up on Nutrient Deficiencies Iron deficiency affects girls and women of all ages, but it can be particularly damaging for female youth athletes. Elizabeth I. Ransom of the Population Reference Bureau suggests that parents of teen girls educate themselves about the side effects of low iron. Two side effects of iron deficiency that are often dismissed are lethargy and depression. These initial signs get brushed off as side effects of being a moody teenager. Other common ailments that teenage girls face include Iodine and vitamin A deficiencies, plus the anemia that can result from having low iron. Eat Larger Meals and Snack More Often Just like a car that runs out of gas, a youth athlete without enough food simply won’t be able to go on. Sports Dieticians Australia suggests avoiding burnout and fatigue by feeding your athlete larger meals with more frequent snack breaks throughout the day. It’s also important that athletes create a habit of eating these larger meals to ensure they’re getting proper nutrients. Sports Dieticians Australia adds that teens “should adopt eating patterns that provide a regular spread of high quality protein sources over the day.” [Img: Football] Refuel the Right Way Loading up on pizza and pasta after a game sure does satiate hunger, but author and dietitian Molly Morgan suggests refueling with something healthier. A submarine on whole grain bread, with deli meats and vegetables, is a tasty choice that offers protein and nutrients. Smoothies filled with fruit, yogurt and milk are also healthy ways to regain energy. These high-protein and high-fiber foods aid the body in recovering muscles as quickly and efficiently as possible. Stay Diligent in the Offseason Most student athletes don’t think twice about grabbing a bag of Doritos or chugging a Mountain Dew come summertime. Speed and strength training specialist company TC Boost says that this can be a major deterrent to performance once preseason rolls around. Eating healthily and staying hydrated is harder when students aren’t around their teammates, but committing to consistent healthy habits will keep your athlete performing at his or her best for as long as possible. Pregame the Game NYU sports dietician Ryan Turner doesn’t take pre-game meals lightly. “Pre-game nutrition should be viewed as supplemental to the fueling you do throughout the rest of the day,” he says. And depending on the sport your athlete plays, he or she should be able to start the game with a solid 60 minutes of high-intensity activity. So, whenever your athlete has a game, be sure to plan the meal that comes before it accordingly. Prep Meals Weekly Board-certified sports dietitian Kelly Jones is a big advocate of meal preparation for college student athletes. Jones’ prep strategy can also be applied to high school athletes, especially those working toward a career in college sports. In addition to saving time and keeping your athlete healthy in a rush, meal preparation also ensures that your athlete diversifies his or her meals. When someone is eating different meals throughout the week, their body gains a more diverse intake of nutrients and minerals. Get to Know Good Fats Fats are vital to a healthy brain and strong muscles. We’re not talking about oversaturated fat from a hamburger and fries, though; we’re talking about healthy, undersaturated fats from nuts and fish. In Mochi Magazine, health educator Mary Lomax explains that youth athletes need good fats for long-lasting fuel. She adds that healthy fats “contribute to a fully functioning body” and support vital processes such as cell growth and hormone production. images by: Aline Ponce, Keith Johnston, Leo Lee, Keith Johnston, Leo Lee

x

Speak with a Youth1 Recruiting Counselor

Youth1’s Recruiting Counselors are on a mission to educate student-athletes and families about the recruiting process.  The process starts early and is very competitive so we want to make sure we do whatever we can for families interested in learning more about the college athletic recruiting process. We’re here to answer your questions and provide guidance through the important decisions that will shape your athlete's journey in sports.

Enter your information below to speak to a Youth1 Recruiting Counselor.

 

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
7 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
5
Articles remaining
Become a Premium Youth1 member today for access to unlimited articles, player profiles, rankings, and savings and discounts on youth sports goods and services.