Healthy eating for young athletes


It’s important for young athletes to get the right food to fuel their bodies and give their best performance. Young athletes need to eat healthy to have energy and rebuild strength after a competition or training. They must also meet their body’s needs for growth.


Drink enough water

Drinking water before, during and after physical movement is important. Not having enough fluids can cause extreme tiredness, muscle cramps and dizziness. 

When children move around a lot, dehydration can be dangerous. It can also keep them from doing their best. It’s important for children to drink enough fluids every day.


Here are some guidelines to follow when your child has a major event or sports match, like  soccer practice or a game.

  • The day before: Drink extra water and fluids.
  • Up to two hours before: Drink at least 16 ounces of water.
  • Five to 10 minutes before: Drink another eight ounces of water.
  • During: Drink eight to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes.
  • After: Drink 16 to 24 ounces of water within the first hour of completing an event.

What about sports drinks? 

Plain water is the best way to get fluids. Sports drinks are for intense physical movement that lasts more than an hour. They’re made for endurance athletes who use large amounts of energy. The average person doing routine physical movement doesn’t need sports drinks.

Increased energy needs 

Young athletes need more food and fluids. It’s important that the extra food come from the right balance of whole foods. 

Meal and snack suggestions 

Before a game or event

The day before a game or event, give children carb-rich meals, like whole grain pasta or brown rice stir-fry. This allows time for their bodies to digest and store the energy in their muscles for later use.

A lighter meal or snack is best when children need to eat less than three hours before a game or event. Include foods that are easy to digest and contain carbs. Try fruit and whole grain crackers. Or make your own trail mix with whole grain cereal and dried fruit.

Children should not have large, fatty meals or fried foods before a game or event. They’re hard to digest.

Before an afternoon or evening game or event, offer a well-balanced breakfast and lunch, such as: 

  • Low-fat yogurt with some granola and a banana 
  • Whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk with sliced strawberries 
  • Turkey sandwich with low-fat cheese, lettuce and tomatoes on whole-wheat bread, plus fruit on the side
  • Grilled chicken wrap with veggies and low-fat milk 

Post-game or -event snack and dinner 

After a game or event, your child’s body will be rebuilding muscles, energy stores and fluids for up to 24 hours. It’s important that the post-game meal be a balance of lean protein, carbs and fat.

Offer them food such as: 

  • Bananas and peanut butter 
  • Low-fat yogurt, nuts and fruit 
  • Fruit smoothie 

It's important for children to eat healthy meals and snacks every day, even during the off-season. This will give them a solid base during times when they have games and events.  



  • KidsHealth