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Nutrition and Sports

Basic Diet:

Young athletes need a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods. This is important to improve athletic performance and maintain a healthy body. Ask your pediatrician how many calories your child or teenager needs each day. The daily training diet should include the following amounts of these types of foods:

  • Carbohydrates should provide 55% to 75% of total energy (calories). Carbohydrates include foods such as breads, cereals, grains, pastas, vegetables, and fruits. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. 
  • Proteins should provide 15% to 20% of total energy (calories). Protein-rich foods include meats, fish, poultry, tofu, dairy foods, legumes, eggs, and nuts. Proteins provide 4 calories per gram. 
  • Fats should provide 25% to 30% of total energy (calories). Common fats include oils, butter, and margarine. Fat is also in many protein-rich foods. Fats provide 9 calories per gram.


Athletes may need extra protein. Total needs rarely exceed 1 gram per pound of body weight per day. Keep in mind the following:

  • Protein supplements have not been shown to enhance muscle development, strength, or endurance.
  • Using amino acid supplements will not increase muscle mass or decrease body fat.
  • Excess protein is either burned for energy, converted to fat, or excreted.


Children and teenagers are at increased risk for dehydration (lack of adequate body water) and heat illness. Risk is greatest in hot, humid weather during long and intense activities. Use these guidelines to ensure that young athletes get enough fluids during physical activity:

  • Never restrict fluids for any reason. Make sure that drinks are available at all times.
  • Plain water is the best drink for most athletes. Carbonated drinks should not be used. Offering flavored water or an appropriate sport drink (check with your pediatrician) may encourage a young athlete to drink more.
  • Athletes need to drink 4 to 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during activity. 
  • Thirst is not a reliable guide to the need for water. An athlete may become dehydrated before he or she feels thirsty. 
  • Body weight should be about the same before and after activity.

Pre-exercise/Game Meal Guidelines:

May include any reasonable foods that an athlete feels may help his or her performance and do not cause any complaints.


1 to 2 hours before

2 to 3 hours before

3 or more hours before

  • fruit or vegetable juice, sport drink
  • fresh fruit (low fiber) 
  • fruit or vegetable juice, sports drink
  • fresh fruit (low fiber
  • breads, bagels, crackers, English muffins 
  • fruit or vegetable juice, sports drink
  • fresh fruit (low fiber
  • breads, bagels, crackers, English muffins 
  • peanut butter, lean meat, low-fat cheese
  • low-fat yogurt (regular or frozen)
  • pasta with tomato sauce
  • cereal with low-fat milk 

    Nutrition Pearls:

    1. Failing to take in enough fluids and calories may lead to early fatigue, irritability, or a sudden drop in performance.
    2. Pre-event liquid meals are safe and effective. They provide fluids, are easy to digest, and empty quickly from the stomach (if they are not too concentrated).
    3. Consuming carbohydrates within 30 minutes after intense exercise followed by more carbohydrates 2 hours later helps athletes better prepare for future activities.
    4. Avoid supplements that may include unproven and dangerous ingredients.
    Last Updated
    Sports Shorts (Copyright © 2001 American Academy of Pediatrics) Conceptual design by the Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics
    The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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