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Game Day Nutrition Tips for Young Aspiring Professional Athletes

Game Day Nutrition Tips for Young Aspiring Professional Athletes

No matter how hard you try, you can’t outwork a bad diet. This is true even when you are in your youth. Therefore, in order to reach peak performance, nutrition tips for young athletes are important, as they need the right fuel to meet their sport’s demands.

While it is critical to eat well most of the time, it is especially important on game day. After all, it would be a shame to work hard leading up to the big game, only to tank it after downing some fast food.

As the saying goes, you are what you eat.

Eating well on gameday is a critical component to how the game turns out and who wins. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can be applied, as athletes vary in shape, size, gender, position and more, and all these can impact nutritional needs.

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However, there are a variety of nutrition tips for young athletes that will be applicable to most budding competitors.

If you are looking for ways to maximize your or your child’s gameday performance, check out these eating tips.


Before getting to a game plan for eating on gameday, let’s take a moment to explore some general nutrition principles for athletes to abide:

Fuel Up with Carbohydrates

No matter if you are involved in any sort of intermittent sport or an endurance athlete, carbohydrates are going to be one of your best friends. Athletes need carbohydrates, as they serve as a primary source of energy. The amount of carbs required will vary based on the athlete (weight, gender, etc.) their goals, the position they play and similar factors.

up the carb intake

Therefore, it is wise to eat a variety of carbs, such as pasta, rice, whole grain breads, fruits and vegetables, as these will not only provide the necessary carbs but a multitude of vitamins and minerals as well.

However, do be aware that carbs that come in the form of sports drinks should be limited due to their sugar content. If these are being consumed for their electrolytes, you are better off buying a high-quality, sugar-free electrolyte powder.

Some things that athletes should be eating to up their carb intake include:

  • Whole grains
  • Fresh fruit (apples, bananas, pears, etc.)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dairy products

Do be sure to avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, cookies, cakes and pastries.

Build Muscle with Protein

Protein is essential for stimulating muscle growth and repairing muscle damage that occurs during training and exercise sessions.

While the amount of protein an athlete needs to consume will vary based on many of the aforementioned factors, many still believe that additional protein should be consumed via bars, shakes and powders. However, research has shown time and again that excessive protein consumption provides no benefit for building or repairing muscles. Moreover, there are risks associated with eating too much protein.

build muscle with protein

This means that athletes are better off meeting their protein requirements through real food and integrating a variety of high-quality proteins into their meals. Some excellent sources of protein include:

  • Skinless chicken or turkey
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lean red meat
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products

A high-quality multi-collagen protein powder, however, can be beneficial for busy young athletes to have on hand for on-to-go meal options and maintaining joint mobility as they begin to age.

Fats in Moderation

While fats have long been demonized, many people now realize there are a handful of good fats that are necessary to consume. If athletes are not getting enough good fats in their diet, it can negatively impact nutrient absorption and performance overall.

Too much saturated fat will cause athletes to gain weight and tank their output, so it is critical to be discerning in the kinds of fats you consume and how much of them you are eating.

olive oil avocado other healthy fats

Therefore, athletes will want to focus on consuming monounsaturated fats such olive oil and canola oil, nuts like almonds, sunflower and chia seeds and avocado.  It is also important to get a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids from sources like walnuts, nut butters, fatty fishes such as tuna or salmon, flax seeds and similar foods.

When consuming these kinds of fats, be aware that a small amount can go a long way and will help to keep athletes satiated between meals.

Beware of Certain Supplements

There is a multitude of sports supplements on the market today that, despite their claims, have no scientific backing and can be harmful for young athletes to consume.

For instance, while most are aware that anabolic steroids can seriously impair a person’s natural ability to produce critical hormones, few know that some supplements contain hormones related to testosterone and can have a similar impact. Meanwhile, supplements like creatine have not been tested in people younger than 18; thus, their risks for this age demographic are not known.

Similarly, many athletes consume salt tablets to try to avoid dehydration but  the tablets can cause such a deficiency. Therefore, you are better off drinking lots of fluids or purchasing hydration capsules that provide plenty of electrolytes.

The bottom line here is that some supplements are okay to consume, but young athletes and their parents should be extremely discerning in which are integrated into their nutrition plan.

With those general guidelines laid out, let’s go ahead and turn our attention toward a nutritional gameplan for gameday.

gameday nutrition tips


The big day has finally arrived. Now is not the time to get lax with your eating habits. The gameday nutrition tips young athletes will want to follow include:

Start the Day with a Good Breakfast

It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for a good reason. To get the day off on the right foot, athletes will want to consume a well-balanced breakfast with a good mix of carbohydrates and protein.

Your body needs fuel in the tank after a restful night of sleep, so loading up with oatmeal, a fruit smoothie with sugar-free yogurt and milk or some eggs and whole grain toast is essential.

Additionally, be sure to hydrate first thing in the morning to replenish what was lost during the night. More on hydration shortly.

Don’t Skip (or Skimp on) Lunch

For young athletes, the big game typically takes place after school. This means that lunch is an essential meal, as it is one of your last chances to fuel up before it’s go-time.

However, many athletes think that going light on lunch (or skipping it altogether) will help them to feel light on their feet. While this might be true for a couple hours after lunchtime, it will likely leave them feeling depleted and distracted when it’s time to compete.

This means eating a hearty, well-balanced lunch is highly advisable. To ensure you can have enough energy for the game but still not get bogged down by your food choices, be sure:

  • To make wise lunchtime choices and eat nutrient-dense foods
  • To eat at least three hours before the event

Opting to eat fruits, veggies, clean protein and similar foods for lunch will help to supply the nutrients needed to fuel your performance during the game.

Additionally, be sure to keep your water bottle close by and stay hydrated throughout the day.

pair bowls grains and fruits

Hours Before the Game

The hours leading up to the game (two hours and less) are your last chance to ensure you are well hydrated. Therefore, it is necessary to utilize this time to properly hydrate yourself and consume the electrolytes needed.

However, be sure to stay away from low-quality sports drinks laden with refined sugar. Instead, opt for a quality electrolyte powder and light snacks high in electrolytes.

During the game, when you need to rehydrate, you can reach for sports drinks for the boost you need. Additionally, while competing, be sure to continue drinking at regular intervals to remain hydrated.

After the Game

For athletes, the focus on food and nutrition doesn’t end when the game concludes. Therefore, it is important to consider how you will refuel after the competition. Eating a post-game meal will give your body the nutrients needed to restore the energy depleted during the event.

Heading out for a post-game family dinner is a great call. When selecting what to eat, be sure to include all five food groups. While it is okay to be a little more relaxed with your food options after the game (all things in moderation, including moderation) it is still a good idea to try to eat a well-balanced meal with whole grains, lean meats or plant-based proteins, plenty of greens and other other colorful vegetables.

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There are some additional things that budding competitors will want to take into consideration and keep in mind at all times, including:

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Dehydration can have seriously negative consequences on an athlete’s physical and mental state. Even mild dehydration can deteriorate performance levels. Therefore, one of the single biggest nutrition tips for young athletes is to be diligent about staying hydrated.

However, it is important not to rely on thirst to tell you when you are getting dehydrated. Being thirsty means that your body has needed fluids for some time.

teen drinking water bottle running

While water will keep you hydrated under most normal circumstances, when training or competing, it is vital to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Again, it is best to avoid sugary beverages and instead meet your needs through high-electrolyte foods and sugar-free powders and liquids.

Additionally, the two to four hours before the game begins is a critical period for ensuring you are hydrated. It is also essential to rehydrate after the game has concluded, as you likely sweated quite a bit during the competition.

Eat at the Right Times

While the following nutrition tip is somewhat intuitive, it is important to understand nonetheless.

Eating at the right times on gameday is critical. This is because the body requires two to three hours to digest a meal While you will not want to skip any meals, you do want to watch how much you eat in the three-hour window leading up to the game. While light, carbohydrate-based snacks like granola bars are fine if the game is still 30 minutes to an hour away, it is wise to not eat too much or too close to game time.


The food an athlete consumes, how much they consume and when they consume it will all play a considerable role in their gameday performance. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that you or your little athlete are closely monitoring what goes into their mouths.

young man holding fruit in blender

After all, you are what you eat.

Take these nutrition tips for young athletes into consideration when structuring meal plans and getting ready to take on the competition.


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