Food for the Young Athlete


Carbohydrates are the cornerstone of the athlete's diet. Active kids need more calories than their sedentary, TV-gazing counterparts. The best way to get those extra calories is in the form of carbohydrates, or carbs, as they are affectionately referred to by the pros. Carbohydrate is important in exercise because it provides fuel for the body, and is the fuel the body prefers. Complex carbohydrates also provide many important B vitamins that are needed to help put that energy to use. Carbs consumed a few hours before practice will help supply energy needed during the event, and some carbohydrates eaten soon after will help replenish the muscles with fuel. Select from the following for some energy-boosting carbs: bagels, cereals, pancakes, pasta, oranges, bananas, apples, yogurt, graham crackers, popcorn, pretzels, pears and fruit juices.


Protein is important in moderation. The role of protein in sports diets has been blown way out of proportion. Protein is necessary for tissue building and repair. But eating excessive amounts will not build bigger or stronger muscles. Kids ages 6 to 10 need about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. On a daily basis, that comes to about 24 to 28 grams of protein. Two to three glasses of milk; a serving of meat, fish or poultry; and a variety of whole grains and some vegetables will more than meet daily protein needs. Spread out protein intake over the course of the day. Too much protein can lead to dehydration since the kidneys will pull water from the body to help dilute the excess nitrogen (a breakdown product of protein) in the urine. For this reason, steer away from protein powders and amino acid supplements.



Fat is important to young athletes in order to help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, and to supply essential fatty acids. When eaten in moderation, it can be a concentrated source of energy. Very active children need lots of energy and will need moderate amounts of fat in their diet to meet that need. Fats should be primarily monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, and should make up no more than 30 percent of their caloric intake.

Vitamins and Minerals

They don't provide energy, but they are necessary for releasing the energy from the foods you eat (as B vitamins do) or getting that energy to the muscles (like iron does). What scientific studies there are available do not indicate any increased need for vitamins and minerals in young athletes. However, eating a well-balanced diet is necessary to get the amount needed in their proper proportions.

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