Nutrition for your young athlete


Proper nutrition is important for children and teens involved in sports and other physical activities.

Good nutrition helps athletes:

  • Feel more energetic and less tired
  • Prevent injury and disease
  • Improve strength and endurance
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Young athletes and their parents need to know:

  • which foods are good sources of energy,
  • when to eat certain foods,
  • how to eat during a sports activity, and
  • when and what to “recharge” with after a sporting event.

What are the nutritional needs of children and teens?

Healthy foods provide the energy needed for growth and physical activity. Whether your child or teen is a more serious athlete or participates in more leisurely daily physical activity, nutrients are an important part of a healthy diet.

Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, protein and fats provide energy for physical activity.

  Benefits Good sources
  • Provide the glucose athletes need for energy.
  • Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and yogurt.
  • Builds and repairs muscle, hair, nails and skin.
  • Also helps maintain glucose when doing physical activity for long periods of time.
  • Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and nuts.
  • Help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, K. Protect the body’s organs and provide insulation. Is a source of energy.
  • Lean meat and poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and olive and canola oils.
  • Fat from chips, fried foods and baked goods should be minimal.

Micronutrients: These are the vitamins and minerals people need to stay healthy. Athletes need to be extra careful and make sure they get enough calcium, vitamin D and iron.

  Recommended daily allowance Benefits and sources
  • 1000 mg/day for 4 to 8 years of age
  • 1300 mg/day for 9 to 18 years of age
  • Calcium helps build strong bones to resist breaking and stress fractures.
  • Good sources include milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, and fortified grain products.
Vitamin D
  • 600 IU/day for 4 to 18 years of age
  • Helps the body absorb calcium.
  • Good sources include fortified foods such as milk, and safe sun exposure. Dairy products other than milk, such as yogurt, do not contain vitamin D.
  • 8 mg/day for 9 to 13 years of age
  • 11 mg/day for boys and 15 mg/day for girls 14 to 18 years of age
  • Iron helps carry oxygen to all the different parts of the body that need it.
  • Teens need more iron for healthy growth, increased amounts of blood and muscle.
  • Good sources include eggs, leafy green vegetables, fortified whole grains and lean meat.
Source: Dietary reference intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements; Institute of Medicine: Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D; Health Canada, Dietary reference intakes


Fluids, especially water, are very important for athletes because they:

  • prevent dehydration, and
  • help maintain a healthy body temperature.

To stay healthy, athletes need to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. The amount of fluid an athlete needs depends on many factors, including age, body size, degree of physical activity, and the environment.

  • Before exercise, athletes should drink 400 to 600 mL of water (2 to 3 hours before the event).
  • During exercise, athletes should drink 150 to 300 mL every 15 to 20 minutes. If the total time spent exercising or participating in a sport is less than an hour, water is usually enough. If the activity lasts longer than an hour and/or takes place in hot, humid weather, sports drinks (which contain sodium and glucose) are recommended.
  • After exercise, athletes need to drink enough to replace the fluid they lost from sweating. Sodium-containing fluids (sport drinks) and snacks will help quench thirst and keep fluids in the body.

What can I do to help my young athlete get what he needs?

Meal planning helps ensure your young athlete gets what he or she needs, especially when getting ready for an athletic event.

Before an event:

  • Meals should include sources of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
  • Limit fibre intake.
  • Avoid meals high in fat because they can make you feel tired.

Meal timing is very important. Athletes should:

  • Eats a meal at least 3 hours before an event to allow digestion and to avoid stomach upset during the event.
  • Have a snack or liquid meal 1 to 2 hours before an early morning practice or an event, and then a full breakfast after.
  • Have pre-game snacks or liquid meals 1 to 2 hours before any event to allow digestion.
  • Use sports drinks, fruit or granola to help keep energy levels high during an event.

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