Nutrition, health and other useful advice for athletes

Nutrition and Young Athletes
Coaches are often asked about nutritional requirements for Young Athletes-generally, before and after training and on competition days. This short article will try to give some guidance to both parents and young athletes.

Essentially Young Athletes are no different to the general population of young people except that they are probably more active. There are, though, two major points to consider in this statement. Young people are generally less active than perhaps previous generations or at least their parents’ generation which means that enrgy requirements for young people’s diets have been reduced over the years. Secondly, young peoples’ diets include more sugary drinks and foods along with more fried foods (such as burgers, chips), crisps, sweets, biscuits. This can mean that young people’s diets could be lacking some essential nutrients and that energy intake is more likely to come from fat and sugar. Nutritional requirements for young athletes mean that this has to be taken into account when considering diet for young athletes.

General Diet
A balanced diet, so we are told, will mean that all the nutritional requirements will be met. However, young athletes will require a greater energy intake than is recommended. The energy intake has to be in a form that the body can utilise for the best outcomes as regards taking part in athletics and optimising performance. Unfortunately, a diet high in fats and sugars does not provide the sufficient energy intake that is usuable for extended periods of exercise-especially for runners. Although some fats are needed, the main energy intake needs to be in the form of carbohydates (often referred to as ‘carbs’). These are best at providing the ‘fuel’ for muscles and there are two types both of which are good to include:

(i) simple sugars as found in eg, Honey, Jam, biscuits, confectionery, cakes, table sugar.  Note that these can give very quick’rushes’ of energy but also, as the effect wears off, very quick and deep troughs of energy. Not too much of this type of carb is required especially the confectionery, cakes,  biscuits (and table sugar) as they provide fewer nutrients and are also high in fat content (especially saturated fat).

(ii) starches as found in cereals, potatoes, rice and cereal products such as bread, pasta. These give slow, long term release of energy which is essential for long periods of exercise. They are NOT fattening (unless your energy intake is far higher than the energy you expend and then the body will start to store this energy). This is the preferred method of obtaining the carbs and, thus, the energy intake required.

It is important that plenty of fluids are taken during each day-often a big issue for young people at school.

Competition day
Rule number 1 – don’t eat or drink anything new on competition day; keep it to the tried and tested.
Rule number 2 – the pre-event meal should be eaten at leats 2 hours before competing.
Rule number 3 – the pre-event meal should be easily digested carbs. They provide long term energy. Great for release over the day and great for muscle energy
Rule number 4 – confectionery and sugary foods should be avoided prior to competition (and afterwards!). They provide rapid short-term boosts of energy but then a rapid trough of energy. It can also lead to travel sickness and feeling ill on the evening after the race. In addition, it delays recovery from the exertion of the event.
Rule number 5 – take plenty of fluid before and after competing (it can be taken upto 10 minutes before competing (running) and during competition for field events of liong duration).
Rule number 6 – eat carbs-and some protein- after the event to boost energy and aid recovery.

Remember to take food and drink with you to competition as you cannot rely on the hosts providing suitable foods.

Training and Nutrition

Again the pre-training meal should be at least 2 hours before training.
Again it should consist of easily digested carbs.
Again drink plenty of fluids before and after training.
Again avoid confectionery and sugary foods before and after training.
Again eat carbs after training.

Examples of diets for young athletes
So what should young athletes eat? Below are some examples of what would be suitable.

If you have to take food with you because of an early start:

-sandwiches (e.g., cheese, fish, jam, honey, Marmite, peanut butter)
-scones, malt loaf, fruit cake
-dried fruit
-muesli bars
-fruit yoghurt
-water, diluted fruit juice
-on cold days-tea, soup, hot milk

-potato, pasta, rice, bread
-lean meat, poultry, fish (or vegetarian alternative)
-vegetables (!!)
-fruit, yoghurt, pudding
-water, diluted fruit juice, tea, hot milk

Post training
-sandwich (jam, honey, Marmite, peanut butter, lean meat, poultry, fish, vegetarian alternative)
scone, malt loaf
-diluted fruit juice, water, hot milk, tea

General diet
Breakfast-cereal, milk, toast,honey/jam, fruit juice, tea
Snack am-water/diluted fruit juice, muesli bar, digestive biscuit or two, fruit
Lunch (packed) – sandwiches with lean meat, fish, poultry, cheese, fruit, yoghurt, salad, water/fruit juice/milk
Lunch (school) –  potatoes (not always chips!)/pasta/rice, meat or vegetarian option,  vegetables, pudding (fruit or milk based are preferable to pastries on the whole),
Snack pm (which could be a pre-training snack if the main meal is taken after training) –  muesli bar/scone /malt loaf,/digestive biscuit or two, fruit juice/milk/water.
Evening meal – potatoes/pasta/rice, vegetables, lean meat/poultry/fish/vegetarian option, fruit/yoghurt/pudding.


This is an ideal in a world where the ideal does not exist!
But, you cannot run a high-performance car on 2 star petrol (which, of course, is not now available!).
Young Athletes have particular nutritional requirements in order to fuel and sustain high energy activity and muscle development associated with exercise. To help them achieve an optimal performance, they need a diet that meets their needs. So, to misquote, what you achieve depends on what you eat.

Richard Bolam
MD/Sprint Coach
Daventry AAC

Remember to consult a Doctor if you make changes to your diet. Daventry AAC take no responsibility for any actions or any effects of such actions in response to reading this article.