There are many high protein foods for young athletes. Learn about 21 of my favorite protein foods (from plants).
As a pediatric dietitian and author of a sports nutrition book, it’s not uncommon to care for young athletes in my private practice.
Once, I counseled a swimmer who was a picky eater. She didn’t like any meat or eggs, and was allergic to milk.
It was challenging for her to eat enough protein throughout the day with these limitations. My job was to help her discover protein foods she liked and could tolerate.
You might be surprised to see the list of protein foods I gave to her: a bowl of peas for a snack, cooked quinoa at lunch, and nuts and dried fruit for recovery.
Truth bomb: There are several delicious protein foods athletes can use as part of a healthy diet plan.
While the obvious sources come to mind, such as meat, eggs, and milk, there are many more protein foods available.
Why is Protein Important for Young Athletes?
Protein is an important nutrient for the growing athlete, as it supplies the building blocks for overall growth (including muscle development), helps muscles repair after intense exercise like pre-season training camp and regular, weekly training, and even has a role in appetite regulation.
Of course, other health benefits exist, including a key role in immunity.
Protein is a nutrient we need each day; our bodies don’t make it, nor do we store it. We need to eat it daily, and ideally, space it evenly throughout the day to get the most benefit.
While you might think your athlete doesn’t get enough protein, studies indicate most young athletes get plenty of protein in their diets, with some research suggesting consumption rates of up to two to three times the daily requirement.
Protein Foods for the Young Athlete
Animal products such as milk, yogurt, eggs, fish, meat and poultry are excellent sources of protein.
They are efficiently absorbed and utilized by the body. If your athlete is vegetarian or not big on animal sources of protein, you have plant foods to fill in the gaps.
Plant foods generally come packaged with fiber, which can help with fullness and satiety, as well as regular bowel movements.
Plant foods also tend to be either low in fat, or, if they contain a source of fat, it’s the healthy type, such as omega-3 fats.
Try New Protein Foods
It’s important to be aware of all protein options so athletes can build variety in their diet. You wouldn’t want your athlete to only eat hamburgers or cheese everyday!
Stretch and train your athlete’s palate to eat a variety of protein sources.
Add some of the following protein sources to meals and snacks. Not only will protein variety blossom, your athlete will amplify his or her nutrient consumption, as well.
21 Plant-Based Protein Foods:
|Food||Protein Content (in grams)|
|Black beans||8 g/cup|
|Pumpkin seeds||35 g/cup|
|Sunflower seeds||27 g/cup|
|Tofu||22 g per half cup|
|Chickpea pasta||14 g per half cup, cooked|
|Peas, green||11 g/cup|
|Peanut butter||7 g/2 tablespoons|
|Potato||8 g/large (3” to 4.5” diameter)|
*USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
Need more resources for your child athlete?
Check out my book, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete.
Register for my online program: Eat Like a Champion Sports Nutrition Course for Young Athletes
Or grab my quick list of snack options for the athlete (click on the orange box):
Want New Snack Ideas for Your Athlete? Click Here!
Could your athlete stand to gain a couple of pounds? Check out my top tips below (click the green box):
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: January 10, 2018
Updated on: September 21, 2019