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USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine



Proper nutrition should be part of training young athletes

Teaching young athletes about good nutrition should be as important as teaching them the skills of the game.

"Sometimes coaches and parents overlook this important part of the training process," said Becky Gorham, a registered dietitian and research nutritionist at the CNRC. "It's up to parents and coaches to learn and teach kids what is good for the body."

Knowing how much to feed young athletes, what to feed them, and when to feed them is important. "Foods high in carbohydrates will provide athletes with the energy their muscles need," said Gorham. High carbohydrate snacks are recommended to meet the energy needs of young athletes.

Weight-bearing exercises can strengthen bones, but only if there is enough calcium in the diet. "Young athletes should also be encouraged to eat at least four servings a day of calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, and yogurts," said Gorham. 

Few things hamper performance faster than dehydration. "Children should drink three to eight ounces of water every 15 minutes of practice to avoid dehydration," said Gorham. "Children need to be taught, and reminded during workouts, to drink water even when they are not thirsty, because thirst is not an accurate measure of hydration."

Contrary to popular belief, vitamin supplements will not provide a direct source of energy for young athletes. If the child is following the guidelines from the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, vitamins are not necessary. 

"Providing young athletes with healthy food choices is one of the keys to helping them reach their full athletic potential," said Gorham. "'And in most cases, these healthy food choices will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

Healthy high-carbohydrate snacks for young athletes:

  • Whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal with low-fat or skim milk
  • Low-fat fruit flavored yogurt
  • Peanut butter on whole wheat toast and 1/2 apple
  • Lean meat on pita bread with cup orange juice
  • Graham or animal crackers and a box of raisins
  • Low-fat frozen yogurt and 100% grape juice
  • Oatmeal raisin cookie and low fat milk
  • Low-fat pudding Bagel and 100% apple juice

Physical Activity and Sports Nutrition

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