Fuel Like a Champion! Tips for Nutrition Before and After Athletic Events for Young Athletes

By Nicole Misner

As a former collegiate student-athlete and someone who has worked with youth involved in sports, I understand one of the most important parts of performance and recovery does not occur on the field, pool, or court. It’s the fueling and hydration that take place before and after athletic events. Both of these are especially important during childhood because youngsters are still growing and developing.

Because practices and game times vary, different meals or snacks meet different needs. Meal timing is important because the body needs about 2 to -3 hours to digest a regular meal before competing in an athletic event or about 30 minutes to digest a small snack.1 Here are some tips for what to eat based on different event times.

Morning Meal

Breakfast is a critical part of fueling your child. Early morning games present challenges with getting up early enough to eat in advance and be ready for the event. A great option for those tough mornings is something that can be consumed on the go. Choose foods that provide a source of carbohydrate and protein.1 Choices like these will help your young athlete stay full longer:

  • Scrambled egg with cheese on two slices of whole wheat bread
  • Non-fat Greek yogurt topped with fruit and half of small whole grain muffin
  • Whole wheat English muffin topped with half of a sliced banana and peanut butter
  • Old fashioned oatmeal topped with peanut butter and non-fat milk

After School Snack

Most children come home from school hungry, but it’s too early to eat dinner before the next activity. Encourage your child to have a snack that satisfies them and keeps them energized for practice or the game. Try some of these:

  • Peanut butter and jelly wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla
  • Low-fat string cheese and unpeeled apple slices
  • Trail mix made with almonds, raisins, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
  • Bowl of unsweetened cereal with non-fat milk

Nighttime Meal

Skip greasy, fried foods or creamy foods for dinners before a night practice or game. They will leave your athlete feeling tired and sluggish. Choose lean protein sources such as chicken, ground turkey or fish paired with a carbohydrate source such as whole wheat pasta, sweet potato, or vegetables high in fiber.

Good choices include:

  • Spaghetti with lean ground turkey
  • Black beans and yellow rice
  • Grilled chicken with broccoli and a small roasted sweet potato
  • Turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and cheese on whole wheat bread

Recovery Snack

Nutrition post game is the key to recovery. Recovery nutrition will help build muscle and restore fluids lost during exercise. Encourage your child to consume a snack that provides a source of carbohydrate and protein like these within an hour after the game;

  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Low-fat cheese slices with multigrain crackers
  • Sliced fruit with low-fat Greek yogurt
  • Smoothie made with banana, strawberries and yogurt

Fuel your child like a champion by helping them choose nutritious foods before, during, and after athletic events. Not only will proper nutrition aid in performance and recovery, it’s important for your child’s growth and health!


  1. Steinmuller PL, Kruskall LJ, Karpinski CA, Manore MM, Macedonio MA, Meyer NL. Academy of nutrition and dietetics: Revised 2014 standards of practice and standards of professional performance for registered dietitian nutritionists (competent, proficient, and expert) in sports nutrition and dietetics. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(4):641.e43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24656504. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.021.
  2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 – 2020. 8th ed. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture; 2015.
  3. Game day nutrition tips for young athletes. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/tips-for-athletes/gameday-nutrition-tips-for-young-athletes. Accessed Mar 1, 2018.

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Posted: May 3, 2018

Category: Health & Nutrition
Tags: Dietetic Internship, Exercise, Sports

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