5 Foods to Support Nutrition for Young Athletes

5 Foods to Support Nutrition for Young Athletes

Article By: Dominica Dieffenbach, RDN

Dominica is a Registered Dietitian and mom of 2 kiddos currently specializing in the special needs pediatric population. She has over 15 years of experience as an RD, working with a wide variety of patients to provide them with individualized medical nutrition therapy and education.

Athletes know that properly fueling their bodies is critical to a good performance on the field. However, pre-teen and teenage athletes have special challenges as they balance their schoolwork, social life, and sports practices, all while consuming a typically less than stellar “teenage diet”. Proper nutrition for young athletes doesn’t need to be complicated... There should be no need to measure out foods or use special powders — simply eating the right balance of nutrient-dense foods from all the food groups will fuel them to help reach their full potential. The term “nutrient-dense” refers to foods containing the most vitamins and minerals per calorie. Athletes need more calories to meet the demands of their activities, but not all calories are created equal. Packaged and processed foods do have higher calories but also lack vitamins and minerals and often contain undesirable quantities of sugar, preservatives, and additives.

Macronutrients are made up of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each of these plays an important role in the creation of meal plans for young athletes.

Nutritious foods for young athletes.

1) The role of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are the most important fuel source for athletes because they provide the glucose used for energy. Glucose is stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver. Muscle glycogen is the most readily available energy source for hard working muscles. Carbohydrates should comprise 45% to 65% of daily caloric intake, aiming to include whole foods such as fruits, whole grains, rice, potatoes, and oats.

Healthy meal plan prep for young athletes.

2) The role of protein.

Protein helps build and repair muscles, hair, nails, and skin. For light and short duration exercise, protein does not act as a primary source of energy. However, as exercise duration increases, protein can help to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Protein should make up approximately 10% to 30% of total energy intake and consist of lean meats, chicken, tuna, eggs, and full fat (no added sugar) dairy. Protein needs for school-age athletes can be met through balanced meals and snacks that contain protein.

Healthy proteins and fats for young athletes.

3) The role of fats.

Fat is necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and provide essential fatty acids. Fat should comprise 25% to 35% of total daily intake. Fat is a calorie-dense source of energy but is more difficult for the body to use during exercise. The addition of increased quantities of healthy fat sources in the daily diet can be helpful for replenishing energy expended during regular training sessions. Healthy fat sources include avocado, nuts/nut butters, and olive oil (limit fats from chips, candy, and fried foods).

Young athletes socializing at a basketball court.

4) The importance of Vitamin D for sports performance.

Although there are many vitamins and minerals required to keep kids healthy, one of the most important micronutrients for athletes is Vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for bone health and the absorption and regulation of calcium, which is responsible for muscle contraction. Athletes living in northern latitudes and/or athletes who train indoors (basketball players, gymnasts, martial artists, etc.) are more likely to be Vitamin D deficient, which can have a negative impact on speed, power, and the capacity to perform aerobic exercise to the fullest. Try Renzo’s Dynamite D3 for your athlete as a complement to their diet.

Overnight oats recipe ingredients.

5) Give this nutritious overnight oats recipe a try!

Got an early sporting event? Try this recipe for a quick, no-cook breakfast that kids can help prepare! It can be made ahead of time to ensure your athlete is properly fueled.

Overnight Oats


  • 1c plain full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2-4T honey or maple syrup
  • 1c milk of choice
  • 1.5c rolled oats
  • Fruit of choice for topping

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Transfer to two 8oz jars. Keep in the fridge overnight for an easy breakfast kids can eat right out of the jar. This can be modified with other additions such as chia seeds, cinnamon, peanut butter, and sliced almonds.

Renzo's Vitamins provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice.

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