Wednesday , 28 July 2021

Sports Nutrition is Important for Youth Performance

This week’s blog will be tackling a question from a reader:

With the sports seasons now in full swing, what should I be feeding my 15 year old to help build muscle strength and how often should he be eating/snacking? I keep hearing something about eating 6 times a day.

Thanks for the question Derek! Nutrition is very important in young athletes and can help improve both their mental and physical performance in whatever sports they are involved in.

For youth involved in sports, eating according to the recommendations laid out in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, is the best plan. By choosing healthy foods from all four food groups, youth are provided the energy, vitamins and minerals they need to support growth, training and competition.

Food Group Number of Food Guide Sample Serving Sizes
Servings per day
for youth aged 12-18 years
Female Male

Vegetables and Fruit 7 8 125 ml (1/2 cup) of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruit
Grain Products 6 7 125 ml (1/2 cup) of cooked pasta, brown rice, quinoa or couscous
Milk and Alternatives 3-4 3-4 250 ml (1 cup) of milk or fortified soy beverage
Meat and Alternatives 2 3 75 g (2 1/2 oz) of cooked fish, poultry or lean meat
Adapted from Sports Nutrition for Youth: A Handbook for Coaches at http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/nutrition/if-nfs-sports-nutrition-for-youth.pdf.

According to Sports Nutrition for Youth, on days when athletes train or compete at high intensity or for long periods of time, they may need to consume extra servings to meet increased energy demands, refuel their muscles and maintain a healthy body weight. Athletes should choose extra food servings from a balance of all four food groups to ensure they receive more of all key nutrients. Athletes need to eat and drink enough to avoid fatigue and to satisfy their hunger and thirst.

Youth should eat at least three meals each day. Eating meals at regular intervals prevents them from getting too hungry. Being too hungry can lead to less healthy food choices. Out of the three meals, breakfast is most important to boost youth’s carbohydrate intake to refuel muscles after a night of sleep.

Healthy snacks should be eaten when youth are hungry between meals. Where all four food groups are recommended for meals, at least two food groups are recommended for snacks. Snacks should be eaten when there will be more than four or five hours between meals, or when youth are very active. Snacks can help meet nutritional needs that are not being met by meals alone.

During competition, eating healthy is also very important. According to Sports Nutrition for Youth, the best foods to eat before any activity are high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat and fibre. This helps fuel muscles and reduce the chance of stomach upset prior to the activity.

One important consideration for healthy eating for youth is for them to listen and respond to their body’s signals of hunger and fullness. The amount of food needed is different from one person to another. Real, whole healthy food is best for optimal nutritional health. Avoiding unhealthy prepackaged foods and “health-promising” supplements is what I would recommend.

If you have any nutrition topics you would like me to write about or have a question you would like answered, email me at [email protected]. I would really like to hear from you!

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