Summer Nutrition Basics for Parents of Young Athletes
Summer Nutrition Basics for Parents of Young Athletes
Mature man at the gym using weight machines

Parents of young athletes play a number of number of important roles — from chief spectator and cheerleader to surrogate coach and tutor. But making sure their children are getting the proper nutrition to fuel their growing bodies is vitally important to ensuring their young athlete’s success on the field, on the court, or in the water.  

Summer break is an ideal time for parents to begin training their student athletes about the basics of proper nutrition so these good practices can become second nature during the school year. We sat down with Kaylee Jacks, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics at Texas Health Sports Medicine, who says there are five fundamental rules she calls Performance Nutrition Basics:

The Basics

Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up

“Just like your mom told you, eating breakfast is so important in starting off your day, especially for young athletes,” says Jacks.  “Breakfast boosts your energy and focus, kick starts your metabolism and provides lasting energy throughout the day.”

The sports dietitian says the building blocks of a balanced breakfast include:

  • Quality carbohydrates like whole grain toast, English muffins, bagels, cereal or oatmeal 
  • Fruits and vegetables, such as berries, bananas or avocados or chopped vegetables
  • Lean protein like eggs, egg whites, Canadian bacon, Greek yogurt, ham and nut butters

A few ideas to inspire your young athlete’s breakfast:

  • Veggie omelet, with whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices and a glass of milk
  • Breakfast sandwich with eggs, spinach, Canadian bacon on an English muffin and side of fruit
  • Oatmeal, Greek yogurt with fruit, V8 or tomato juice
Eat every 3-4 hours to ensure maximum emergency and consistent recovery

“It’s important for young athletes to adopt an eating schedule that includes meals and snacks throughout the day,” Jacks explains.  “Quality carbohydrates and lean protein should be combined at each feeding because carbohydrates restore energy and maintain blood sugar levels, and protein supports muscle tissue repair and growth.”

Jacks recommend a daily meal schedule that looks like one of these options depending on whether a workout is scheduled: 

  • Breakfast – Snack – Lunch – Snack – Dinner – Night Snack
  • Breakfast – Snack – Lunch – Pre-workout Snack – Recovery Snack – Dinner
Fuel before training or competition to optimize energy

“Because we want the athlete to have as much energy as possible, we recommend a three-phase meal approach starting with a pregame meal 3-4 hours before training or a competition that consists mostly of healthy carbohydrates paired with moderate lean protein and a limited amount of fat,” Jacks shares.  “Then 2-3 hours before the activity, I recommend a mini-meal of mostly carbs and moderate protein.  One hour before the competition, I recommend topping off their energy stores with a fast-acting carbohydrate.”

Jacks provides examples of all three meals:

  • Pregame Meal – whole wheat pasta, chopped grilled chicken, light marinara with a whole grain roll, side salad and mixed fruit
  • Mini-Meal – fruit smoothie made with low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt with fruit and spinach
  • Fast-acting Carb – granola bar, fruit, apple sauce or Gatorade 
Recover quickly after training to maximize muscle recovery and growth

Jacks describes three R’s to recovery after a workout:

  • Refuel with carbohydrates
  • Rebuild with protein
  • Rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes

“Having a recovery meal or snack within an hour after training is vital to replenishing energy and repairing muscles,” Jacks emphasizes.  “The meal allows the athlete to get the most out of the workout and helps their body repair and prepare for the next activity.  When determining allocations of food, I recommend aiming for 3:1 or 4:1 carbs to protein.”

Snack examples:

  • 16-20 ounces of chocolate milk
  • Fruit Smoothie with whey protein

Meal examples:

  • Grilled chicken, rice, mixed vegetables and mixed fruit 
  • Turkey sandwich, pretzels, fruit and yogurt
Build performance plates at each meal by choosing lean protein, quality carbohydrates, and colorful fruits and vegetables

As a general rule of thumb, your athlete’s plate should be divided into thirds, with one-third being a lean protein like chicken or fish, another third composed of quality carbs like brown rice or sweet potatoes, and finally one-third fruits and vegetables.  The portions can be adjusted slightly.  For example, for heavier activity, you could increase the amount of carbs, and for lighter activity, you could add fruits and vegetables to the plate.” 

Drink Plenty of Fluids!

In addition to the five fundamental nutrition rules, Jacks stresses the importance of staying hydrated, especially while training in the hot summer months.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking two to four glasses of cool fluids every hour, and avoiding extremely cold drinks that can cause stomach cramps.  Sports beverage can also be beneficial in replacing salt and minerals lost through sweating, but she says water is probably a better choice unless the activity takes place for more than an hour in hot and humid conditions.

Staying Connected

Despite the pandemic, Jacks is staying in touch with her clients concerning sports nutrition and education this summer thanks to virtual technology apps like Zoom and Skype, which make consultations easy and accessible. To learn more or make an appointment, contact  Jacks or her team at Texas Health Sports Medicine.   

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