7 Key Nutrition Strategies for Youth Athletes

Combining work or study with intense training sessions makes for long days. While adequate fuelling is important for optimal training and recovery, it’s also important for meeting growth and development needs. When working with youth athletes, I always see the same eating habits that are hindering their body composition goals and their performance. To them (and you) maximise their growth and performance, these are my top 7 nutrition strategies for youth athletes on training days.

1. Plan. Plan. Plan.
Consider your nutrient needs (carbohydrates, protein and fats) and plan all your meals and snacks for the week. Set a designated shopping day and stock your kitchen with everything you need. Pre-made meal options (My Muscle Chef or You Foodz) or food boxes (Hello Fresh or Marley Spoon) may be a suitable option for some of you.

2. Always eat breakfast.
Eat breakfast before 9am everyday. Breakfast boosts energy levels, improves concentration, memory and recall, reduces the likelihood of poor eating habits later in the day and ensures you train more effectively. Select a breakfast that contains ~20g protein, good quality carbohydrates and fluid and electrolytes. Good choices include muesli, yoghurt and berries, porridge, overnight oats with fruit, omelette with wholegrain toast, and eggs, smoked salmon and avocado on sourdough toast.

3. Eat a high performance lunch.
Build your lunch around the following:
a. Select a protein: Protein helps reduce hunger and is important for muscle recovery.
b. Select a carb: Carbs top up fuel stores in your muscle & liver prepping your fuel stores for training.
c. Add a serve of healthy fats: Healthy fats are essential for healthy cells, help with satiety, regulate body temperature and assist with reducing inflammation.
d. Add colour: Vegetables & fruit contain an array of vitamins & minerals that help your body unlock energy from food, boost your immune system and keep you functioning at your best.
e. Add a drink: Keep hydrated. Drink plenty of water and in hot weather add in some electrolyte tablets.

4. Eat a snack before training.
Eat meals 2-4 hours before training and a snack 1-2 hours before. Pre-training eating aims to top up muscle fuel stores, restore liver fuel stores, ensure hydration and prevent hunger and stomach upsets during training.

5. Arrive at training well hydrated.
Drink water at all meals and snacks, and drink 500ml of water 1-2 hours before training. Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration, so make sure you drink until you’re no longer thirsty plus a little bit more. Electrolyte tablets like Hydralyte added to water will improve hydration, particularly in hot weather.

6. Stay hydrated and fuelled during training
For training sessions longer than 90 minutes include 30g of carbohydrates per hour – 500ml Gatorade, 3 snakes, 1 banana or 1 sports gel. Stay hydrated with water and water containing electrolytes.

7. Recover post-training
With your post-training refuelling, follow the 4’s of recovery:
a. Refuel muscle and liver glycogen stores with carbohydrates foods
b. Rebuild and regenerate muscle tissue with high quality protein foods
c. Rehydrate by replacing 125-150% of fluid/weight loss (1kg = 1L of fluid)
d. Reinforce your immune system with nutrient-dense wholefoods.