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Eat to Win: Understanding the Role of Nutrition in Athletic Performance

Good nutrition is essential for young athletes to reach their full potential both in their athletic performance and their overall health and well-being. A balanced diet that meets the specific nutritional needs of young athletes can help to increase energy levels, improve endurance, and reduce the risk of injury and illness. In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of good nutrition for young athletes and provide tips for parents and coaches on how to encourage healthy eating habits.


Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in the athletic performance of young athletes. A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all the food groups provides the necessary nutrients to fuel the body and support physical activity. Carbohydrates are particularly important for providing the energy needed during exercise, while protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue. Healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals also play important roles in maintaining overall health and aiding in recovery after physical activity. On the other hand, poor nutrition can have negative consequences on both athletic performance and overall health. Inadequate intake of nutrients can lead to decreased energy levels, poor endurance, slower recovery times, and increased risk of injury and illness. Therefore, it is important for young athletes to prioritize proper nutrition by consuming balanced meals that meet their specific nutritional needs.


The Role of Nutrition in Athletic Performance


The role of nutrition in athletic performance is well-documented, with numerous studies demonstrating the benefits of proper nutrition for young athletes. According to the American Dietetic Association, "proper nutrition is essential for optimal athletic performance, allowing young athletes to achieve and maintain healthy body weights, maximize training benefits, and recover from injury and illness more quickly." A diet that includes a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals is essential for fueling the body and supporting physical activity. This is particularly important for young athletes, as their bodies are still developing and require adequate nutrition to support growth and development. On the other hand, poor nutrition can lead to decreased energy levels, decreased endurance, increased risk of injury and illness, and slower recovery times. Therefore, it is essential for young athletes to prioritize proper nutrition and consume balanced meals that meet their specific nutritional needs. Source: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124969/)


The role of nutrition in athletic performance is crucial, as proper nutrition can have a significant impact on energy levels, endurance, and recovery time. According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, "nutrient timing and composition can significantly impact exercise performance, recovery, and adaptation." Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the body and are essential for sustaining exercise intensity and duration. Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth, which is particularly important for athletes who engage in regular training and competition. Adequate hydration is also critical for maintaining energy levels and preventing fatigue. Additionally, vitamins and minerals play essential roles in energy metabolism, muscle function, and immune function, which can affect an athlete's endurance and recovery time. Therefore, consuming a balanced diet that meets the specific nutritional needs of young athletes is essential for optimal athletic performance. Source: (https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4)

Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Young Athletes


Youth athletes have specific nutritional needs that are essential for supporting their growth and development, as well as their athletic performance. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, young athletes should consume a balanced diet that includes the recommended amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. The exact amount of each nutrient may vary depending on factors such as age, gender, body size, and level of physical activity.


For protein, the recommended amount for young athletes is 1.2-1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. This can be obtained through sources such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and dairy products. Young female athletes may have increased protein needs during puberty to support the development of lean muscle mass.


Carbohydrates are essential for providing energy during physical activity, and young athletes should consume 3-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on the intensity and duration of their training. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.


Healthy fats are important for supporting growth and development, as well as providing energy during endurance activities. Young athletes should aim to consume 25-35% of their daily calories from healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish.


It is important to note that the nutritional needs of youth athletes may change during puberty, particularly for females. According to the National Institutes of Health, females may require more iron and calcium to support the development of bone density during puberty.


Understanding the specific nutritional needs of youth athletes is essential for supporting their growth, development, and athletic performance. Consuming a balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats is important for optimal nutrition. Additionally, factors such as age, gender, body size, and level of physical activity should be taken into consideration when determining the exact amount of each nutrient needed,


Hydration is critical for athletes, as it can have a significant impact on their performance and overall health. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, dehydration can lead to a decrease in performance, increased risk of heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke. This is because water plays a crucial role in regulating body temperature and transporting nutrients to the muscles.


During physical activity, the body loses water through sweat, and if this fluid is not replaced, dehydration can occur. This can result in decreased blood volume, which can lead to decreased oxygen delivery to the muscles and decreased energy levels. In severe cases, dehydration can cause dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness.


It is recommended that athletes drink fluids before, during, and after physical activity to prevent dehydration. The American Council on Exercise recommends that athletes drink 17-20 ounces of water 2-3 hours before exercise, 8 ounces of water 20-30 minutes before exercise, and 7-10 ounces of water every 10-20 minutes during exercise. It is also important to consume fluids after exercise to replace any fluids lost through sweat.


It is worth noting that the recommended amount of fluids needed may vary depending on factors such as age, gender, body size, and level of physical activity. Athletes who engage in high-intensity exercise, exercise in hot or humid environments, or have a history of heat-related illnesses may need to consume more fluids to prevent dehydration.


Staying hydrated during physical activity is critical for athletes, as dehydration can have a significant impact on performance and overall health. Athletes should consume fluids before, during, and after exercise, and the recommended amount may vary depending on individual factors. Failure to hydrate adequately can lead to dehydration, which can have serious consequences. Therefore, athletes should make it a priority to stay properly hydrated to optimize their athletic performance and overall health. Source: (https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/hydration-recommendations-for-athletes.pdf)


Tips for Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits in Young Athletes


Encouraging healthy eating habits in young athletes can be challenging, but there are practical tips that parents and coaches can use to make it easier. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Meal Planning and Preparation: Planning and preparing meals in advance can help ensure that young athletes have access to healthy, nutritious food options. Parents and coaches can work together to create a meal plan for the week, which can include a variety of healthy options such as lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Preparing meals in advance can also save time and reduce stress during busy weeks.

  2. Make Healthy Food Options Readily Available: Parents and coaches can help young athletes make healthy food choices by making nutritious snacks and meals readily available. This can include keeping fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, providing healthy snacks like nuts or yogurt, and avoiding high-sugar and high-fat snacks.

  3. Involve Children in Food Choices and Preparation: Children are more likely to eat healthy food options when they are involved in the decision-making process. Parents and coaches can involve children in meal planning and preparation, such as taking them grocery shopping or having them help prepare meals. This can help children feel more invested in their food choices and can also teach them valuable cooking skills.

  4. Set a Good Example: Parents and coaches can also encourage healthy eating habits by setting a good example themselves. This can include eating healthy meals and snacks in front of children and avoiding unhealthy food options. Children are more likely to adopt healthy eating habits when they see adults modeling these behaviors.

By using these practical tips, parents and coaches can help young athletes develop healthy eating habits that can have a positive impact on their athletic performance and overall health.


Promoting healthy eating habits can be challenging, especially when dealing with picky eaters or busy schedules. Here are some tips for addressing common challenges:

  1. Picky Eaters: Encouraging picky eaters to try new foods can be challenging, but it is essential for promoting a healthy diet. One approach is to offer a variety of healthy options and let children choose what they want to eat. It can also be helpful to involve children in food preparation or presentation, such as letting them choose a vegetable to include in a dish or arranging food in a fun and visually appealing way. Gradual exposure to new foods can also help children become more comfortable with them.

  2. Busy Schedules: Busy schedules can make it difficult to find time for meal preparation and planning. One solution is to prepare meals in advance, such as cooking meals on weekends and freezing them for later use. Meal planning and preparation can also help save time during the week. Additionally, quick and healthy meal options, such as salads or pre-made wraps, can be an excellent choice for busy days.

  3. Lack of Availability: Access to healthy food options can also be a challenge, especially in areas with limited options. However, parents and coaches can work to find alternatives, such as shopping at farmers' markets or local co-ops for fresh produce. Additionally, making small changes, such as swapping out high-fat or high-sugar snacks for healthier options, can have a significant impact on overall diet.

By being creative and flexible, parents and coaches can overcome common challenges in promoting healthy eating habits. Providing healthy options, involving children in food choices and preparation, and modeling healthy eating behaviors can all contribute to a positive food environment that promotes optimal health and athletic performance.


Good nutrition is crucial for young athletes, as it provides the fuel necessary for optimal athletic performance and supports overall health and well-being. A balanced diet that includes appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats can help athletes maintain energy levels, improve endurance, and speed up recovery times. Inadequate nutrition can lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and an increased risk of injury. Additionally, good nutrition can help young athletes develop healthy eating habits that can have a positive impact on their overall health, both now and in the future. By making sure that young athletes are getting the nutrients they need, parents and coaches can help support their athletic goals and promote lifelong wellness.


It is crucial for parents and coaches to prioritize nutrition for young athletes and provide the support and resources necessary to promote healthy eating habits. One way to do this is by seeking the guidance of a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach, such as the Penquis Elite team. They can provide customized nutritional guidance and support to help young athletes fuel their bodies properly and optimize their athletic performance. With the help of a nutrition coach, parents and coaches can learn how to create balanced meal plans and make healthy food options readily available. Additionally, they can receive support and guidance on addressing common challenges, such as picky eaters and busy schedules. By prioritizing nutrition and seeking support from a certified nutrition coach, parents and coaches can help young athletes develop healthy eating habits that will benefit the overall athlete and their performance.


Contact Penquis Elite today to learn more about our nutritional coaching services and start promoting healthy eating habits in your young athlete's life!

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