What to Feed Young Athletes

Before Sports

For most kids, athletic practices and games are held after school. Depending on your child's schedule, she may eat breakfast as late as 8:30 a.m., lunch as early as 11:30 a.m., and not have sports until 2:30 or 3 p.m., sometimes even as late as 5:30 or 6 (soccer, youth baseball). As a general rule, if the time between lunch and sports is more than 2 hours, try to make sure your child has a nutritious snack before sports. Your child also needs to remember to drink some water before sports as well.

After sports

The body is most efficient at absorbing and storing energy (glycogen) during the first 4 or 5 hours after exercise. It's important to take in carbohydrate immediately (within 30 minutes) after hard workouts that last several hours. As soon as your child finishes sports, they need to rehydrate to replace lost fluids and eat some complex carbohydrates to replenish their glycogen stores. Instead of the usual empty, high fat calories (sugary bakery products, candy, chips, carbonated soft drinks), they should eat nutritious snacks such as one of the following foods and drinks:

  • Medium bagel (50 grams of carbohydrates)

  • Pretzels (23 grams of carbohydrate per ounce)

  • Fruit yogurt (40 grams of carbohydrates per 8 ounce container)

  • Large banana (40 grams of carbohydrates)

  • Cranberry-apple juice (43 grams of carbohydrates per 8 ounces)

  • Orange juice (28 grams of carbohydrates per 8 ounces).

For a list of high carbohydrate foods, click here.


A nutritious, mostly carbohydrate dinner (about 2 hours after exercising) is particularly important for athletes because, along with the post-event snack, it will determine how much energy he or she will have for the next training session or competition. Here are two suggested meals:

Meal One:

  • 1 large baked potato with grated low-fat cheese and plain low-fat yogurt

  • Carrot sticks

  • 1 cup fruit salad

  • 1 cup low fat milk

Meal Two:

  • 2 cups spaghetti

  • 2/3 cup meat sauce with mushrooms and peppers

  • 2 pieces of French bread

  • 1 cup low-fat milk

For a sample high carbohydrate menu for one day, click here.



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