Nutrition for Young Athletes
The mystery behind what should be included in the young athlete’s diet is never-ending, partly because miracle foods are constantly surfacing, while other foods fall from grace. When it comes to what to include in your child athlete’s meal plan, it’s important to consider the nutritional requirements for growth and development, as well as for athletic performance.
It’s no mystery that many children and teens are missing out on important nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium. Skipping breakfast, snacking on nutrient-poor foods, or using weight control measures like diets not only curtail nutrient intake, they can impair athletic performance.
10 Foods to Include in the Young Athlete’s Diet
All nuts are chock-full of healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium and vitamin E. Use them to top yogurt or cereal, or just grab a handful on the way to practice.
Similar to nuts, seeds are full of fiber, healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E. Eat them like you would nuts. They are a great substitute if your athlete is allergic to nuts.
Cereal is fortified with nutrients such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and E, making them a good source of nutrients.
100% orange juice
Increasingly, you can find calcium and vitamin D- fortified OJ, and it’s a good source of folic acid and vitamin C, too. Don’t guzzle it though!
Kids aged 7-18 years should keep a cap on juice — no more than one cup per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Orange juice can be a significant source of calories when more than a cup is consumed daily.
Magical indeed! Full of fiber, protein, iron, zinc and magnesium—find ways to fit beans into your weekly (or daily) diet.
Roast them for a crunchy snack, top a salad or burrito, or throw them in with diced tomatoes for a hearty pasta dish.
Cheese is a quick and easy snack, especially when packaged in sticks or blocks. Mix cheese into casseroles, pasta and layer it in sandwiches.
Cheese is full of calcium, potassium, and protein.
Yogurt is a good source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. Go for Greek varieties if you are looking for extra protein (though most young athletes don’t need extra protein). Eat yogurt as part of a meal, a snack, or dessert.
Low-fat milk or soy milk
Dairy milk is a natural source of calcium, potassium, and protein, and is fortified with vitamin D.
If soy milk is your go-to, make sure it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D and shake the carton so the minerals don’t settle to the bottom.
Many athletes use flavored milk (chocolate milk) after an intense workout to help their muscles recover.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Dark green leafy veggies like kale, spinach and collard greens offer iron and calcium. Pair these with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as red peppers, tomatoes or citrus fruit, or serve them with meat to maximize the absorption of iron.
Orange fruits and vegetables
Loaded with vitamins C, E, A, and potassium, these help your immune system stay healthy.
Is your young athlete’s diet full of these foods?
If feeding your athlete is a struggle, I’ve got several resources for you: