Nutrition for Young Athletes

Why a nutritious diet is needed:


  • Normal growth and development
  • Healthy, strong body
  • Energy for everyday activities – school, gymnastics training
  • Repair of muscles following demands and stresses of training and competition

Main components of the diet:



  • as important as food
  • Overheating and dehydration can be dangerous (heat stroke)
  • Low levels of dehydration: reduced strength, stamina, concentration


  • Supply energy for musclesSTARCHY
  • Immunity
  • Growth
  • Focus on wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, fruit, veg
  • Especially important before and after exercise for muscle energy



  • For muscular strength & power, muscle repair & maintenance
  • Focus on lean protein: chicken, fish, eggs,
  • dairy, beans, seeds, nuts

Healthy Fats:

  • Important for healthy heart, nervous system, hormones etc.
  • Focus on healthier fats from olive oil, oily fish eg. Salmon, avocado, peanut butter etc.

Vitamins & Minerals:

  • Calcium – strong bones
  • Iron – needed for blood cells to transport oxygen to muscles
  • Vitamin D – bone development, also implicated in long term health issues
  • B vitamins – energy production & protein metabolism
  • Omega 3 fats – oily fish, for brain development, heart health, vision etc.
  • Generally, supplements not needed if child has varied diet
  • Consider fish oil supplement (omega 3 fats) if intake of oily fish is less than once per week
  • Consider Vitamin D supplement if always wears sunscreen in summer

Pre – exercise fuelling:

  • Aim to have a meal or a substantial snack a few hours before:
    • Pitta/crumpets/toast with jam/honey/peanut butter + milk
    • Jacket potato + tuna/baked beansshutterstock_81803002
    • Baked beans on toast
    • Boiled egg and toast
    • Porridge, milk and raisins/berries
    • Breakfast cereal with milk
    • Bread roll with cheese/meat filling + banana
    • Pasta, rice or noodles with tomato sauce, lean meat eg. chicken, vegetables
  • Up to 1 hour before
    • Fluid for hydration: 200mls fruit juice/water/skimmed milk

 Early morning sessions: If training or competition is first thing in the morning, it is probably not possible to have a meal 3-4 hours before. In these circumstances, have a good meal the night before, then a snack and fluid 1-2 hours pre exercise eg. breakfast cereal and milk, fruit and yoghurt, smoothie or milkshake.

After exercise:

Ensure your child has a snack, or a meal following training. Carbohydrates replenish the muscles with glycogen for energy, while protein repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue. Sports protein shakes or supplements are unnecessary and not advised.

Post-exercise snack ideas (follow within a few hours with a meal):

  • Homemade shake – blend 200ml milk, tablespoon yoghurt, banana, tablespoon honey
  • Low fibre breakfast cereal  eg. Cornflakes/Rice Krispies and milk
  • banana and yoghurt/milk
  • Bread roll or sandwich with cheese/meat/fish filling


It is highly likely that your child will finish training with some degree of dehydration, therefore it is important to replace these fluids as soon as possible after the session. Aim for 200ml fluid with an hour of finishing.

Body image and Disordered Eating

In some sports there is pressure to ‘not get fat’/stay lean or to bulk up to enhance performance Eg. Gymnastics or rugby.

Any such pressure can have the opposite effect – unhealthy eating patterns, restrictive eating (anorexia), or bingeing (bulimia).

Poor nutrition, resulting in weight loss, can cause anaemia, reduction in muscle power and performance, weak bones, poor concentration and increased injury risk

Tips for parents:

  • Do not weigh your child (unless specifically asked to do so for medical reasons)
  • Do not discuss calories or fat, unless raised by your child.  Approach in a positive manner e.g. food gives us energy for exercising and being strong. Healthy fats are important for us to be healthy.
  • Talk about food being nutritious, for making us strong, repairing cuts in our skin, building our muscles, giving energy for running fast etc.

Written by Sarah Danaher, Registered Dietitian, Accredited Sports Dietitian

Registered Dietitians are the only qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems.

If you have any concerns regarding your child’s or family’s diet, then please don’t hesitate to contact me:

07758 100727


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