SPORTS Performance Nutrition for Youth and Teen Athletes - 5 Meal and Snack Ideas

Over 45 million children and teens are currently participating in organized sports. While this is absolutely amazing, there is a crucial issue that is often overlooked in this population; nutrition quality and nutrient needs in youth and teen athletes.

Unfortunately, most children and teens are not meeting the national nutrition recommendations, yet overconsuming the recommended daily intake of sugar, salt, and processed foods. Additionally, many teens are engaging in unhealthy disordered eating behaviors from unrealistic social media messaging and the myth that thinner equals greater success in sports. 

You might realize that the relationship between the human body, nutrition, and athletic performance plays a role, but not realize just how important diet quality is for this age group, especially because of their increased energy demands from their sports.  A deeper understanding of youth sports nutrition can improve youth's current and future health, growth, and development, and enhance their athletic performance.

As a mom of two very active kids that play in several year-round competitive team sports, I live it every day. I too experience the time restraints parents face when we need to feed our kids with such little time after school before we rush them off to practice or shuffle each kid back-to-back soccer games and tournaments on the weekends. At soccer games, I sit and observe the trips to the snack bar and the endless bags of processed snacks, sweets, and sports drinks frequently eaten even at very young ages.  

"I believe it is critical to learn healthy eating patterns early in life to develop a healthy relationship with food and for life-long health." 

Dietary patterns play a vital role in athletic performance, as well as, critical growth and development during youth and adolescence. Childhood dietary eating patterns and behaviors often persist through adolescence into adulthood.

The Need for Improvement

Food is so much more than just something to eat for athletes. It is the fuel used to train harder, perform better, and recover quicker. It can be incredibly helpful to understand nutrition’s vital role in the human body, especially when it comes to athletes and athletic performance. Right now, you may be asking yourself, why exactly is this so important? Because, knowing the proper consumption of each food group, realizing the significance of pre-and post-workout meals, acknowledging the risks of athletic enhancers/dietary supplements, and being aware of the imperative need for adequate hydration is a GAME CHANGER.

It’s Not Just About Counting Calories

Having a strong healthy body and improving athletic performance isn’t about counting calories, it’s all about energy balance. Athletes should consistently make an effort to match energy intake with energy expenditure. This means that the number of kilocalories (kcals) consumed should match the amount of energy expended. If you consume more than you are expending, you are in a positive energy balance. If you expend more than you are consuming, you are in a negative energy balance. Yep, it’s that simple! Youth and teen athletes should strive to achieve energy balance by consuming the appropriate portion sizes from each food group, scheduling small frequent meals throughout the day, and choosing healthy beverages to stay hydrated. 

In need of some healthy ideas for your pre/post-workout power plate? Look no further!

Choosing the most appropriate foods and properly timing your meals/snacks is the key to maximizing athletic performance and getting the most out of your training sessions. Your little athlete should always plan to eat a full meal at least 3-4 hours before their training session. A full meal should consist of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. If a full meal is not feasible then provide a snack (ideally at least 1 hour before the workout), that contains mostly carbs paired with some protein or a little fat. This type of snack is easier to digest and will boost your energy by optimizing blood glucose levels and glycogen stores.

Here are some great examples of pre-and post-workout snacks that can help any athlete get the most out of their next workout. Please keep in mind that portion sizes will vary depending on the age, size, appetite, and activity level of the child.

5 Pre-Workout Meal Ideas (3-4 hours before a workout)

  1. Greek yogurt with dry roasted peanuts and raisins
  2. Banana or apple with peanut butter, or another nut butter alternative
  3. Whole wheat tortilla with scrambled egg and low-fat cottage cheese
  4. Avocado toast with a fried egg or hard-boiled egg
  5. Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, banana, and chia seeds

5 Pre-Workout Snack Ideas (1 hour or so before a workout)

  1. Fresh or dried fruit- banana, orange slices, dried mango
  2. Applesauce pouches
  3. Low-fiber and low-sugar cereal
  4. Snack or protein bar- low-sugar
  5. Fig bar or breakfast bar

5 Post-Workout Snack Ideas

  1. Protein-rich green smoothie with greek yogurt, spinach, and nut butter of choice
  2. Whole wheat pita with hummus and cucumber and carrot sticks
  3. Two egg omelets with cheese and spinach
  4. Pancakes made with added protein or topped with fresh nuts or nut butter
  5. Tuna salad wrap with tomato and avocado slices

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All the Best,


45 Million 
  1. Merkel DL. Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open Access J Sports Med. 2013;4:151-160. Published 2013 May 31. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S33556

30 Million 

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