Nutrition for Youth Athletes

What should a youth athlete eat to develop in to total beasts in the classroom, on the court, and in life?

A lot of the information I found on my cursory google search really sucked. It was very bland, not very helpful, and in some cases not accurate.

There is a lot going on with kids going through puberty. Lots of growth, lots of hormones, change of schedules, rhythms and patterns. Proper fueling and rest is crucial to growth, recovery, and maturation process.

As an overall frame of reference, every meal should be 40% carb, 40% protein, and 20% fat. Unless it is game day nutrition (outlined below), sticking to this proportion will be just fine.

Below I've outlined Three Tips for Great Nutrition, Three Tips to Make it Easy, and Three Tips for Game Day Nutrition

Three Tips for Great Nutrition for Youth Athletes

Eat More Protein

Your kid is growing. Their bones are getting longer, their tendons are stretching, their muscles are getting longer. That means their is an increased demand for protein to sufficiently grow those muscles. When your kid is growing, they should eat 1.5 to 2 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. So if they weight 120 pounds, that means 180 to 240 grams of protein per day. 60 to 80 grams of protein per meal! A classic bologna sandwich ain't going to cut it! In regards to types of meat, for a growing youth athlete, I'm OK with cuts of meat that aren't super lean (80/20 burger, pork chops, chicken thighs, skin-on chicken breast).

Eat More Carbs

Carbs are not bad. Especially for growing kids. Especially, especially for growing athletes. Carbs help fuel cells, of which there are a growing number in the body. Same as protein, your kid should get about 1.5 to 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. 180 to 240 grams per day. So 60 to 80 grams per meal! That's three slices of Oatnut bread per meal.

Get Great Sleep

Sleep is extremely important for growth -- it helps regulate hormones, builds and repairs tissue during this time, and helps your youth athlete mental and emotional maturation as well. If they get less than required amount of sleep, all the positive benefits are eliminated and they actually turn into negative effects -- hormone disregulation, lack of tissue repair, lack of focus, decreased impulse control.... The longer they sleep, the better. Aim for 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night if possible!

Three Tips to Make Nutrition Easy

Keep It Simple

You're busy and you're kids are busy. The less variation for meals, the easier it will be to know if there is enough carb and protein per meal. Choose two dense carbs and two lean proteins to cook up for the week. Have that be the center of your meals and add fruits, vegetables, and cheeses as you desire.

Pre-Cook Your Proteins and Carbs

Knowing your kid needs to eat 240 grams of protein and carbs a day, lets calculate backwards to see how much chicken breast and white rice you'd need for the week. One pound of boneless skinless chicken breast has 105 grams of protein. One cup of cooked white rice is 45 grams of carbs. So your kid needs about 2.5 pounds of chicken breasts a day and 6 cups of rice a day. Multiply that by 3 days and you have 7.5 chicken breasts, 18 cups of rice. That's HALF of your meals for the week. You'll need to do that same calculation for the other three days -- I like ground turkey or lean ground beef and sweet potatoes.

Have Big Tupperware Containers

Big containers for storing your food in the fridge/freezer and also big containers for your kid to take to school, to work, to wherever they're out and about to. At one point, I was eating over a pound of sweet potatoes at a meal, plus a pound of ground turkey. Your run of the mill small plastic lunch container WONT CUT IT. Having lots of containers is also good for meal prep -- when you're done cooking rice and chicken, go ahead and portion it all out in individual containers. Make a stack of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. That way its easy and saves you time of measuring everything out at every single meal.

Three Tips for Game Day Nutrition

Lots of Carbs

Day before and day of competition, increase the PROPORTION of your carbs relative to your protein and fat intake. I recommend about 70% carbs, 20% lean protein, and less than 10% fat as your pre-game meal. Post game meal should be 60% carbs, 30% protein, and less than 10% fat.

Lean Protein

For game day protein, keep it lean, ie, don't have big fatty cuts of meat. You need protein throughout your game day, but fat takes longer to digest and won't be able to provide energy right away for your athlete.

Have Snacks Available

Snacks should be carb-centric, have some salty component to them, and easy to consume. Gatorades or other carb and electrolyte loaded drinks are great, as are bananas, apples, sweet potatoes, and pretzels. Salted jerky would be a great way to get salt in to the system and lean protein at the same time.

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