November 12, 2023 // by Wendy Rosset, MS, RDN, CDN

Being involved in sports at any age is great for your child's mental and physical health.

The more your child expends energy, the more fuel they will need for performance and growth. Luckily, most young athletes do not require specialized food products. They can receive all the nutrients they need by working the right food, in the right amount, into their routine. 

Dietician, Wendy Rosset, MS, RDN, CDN, recommends the following guidelines for your young athlete:

1. Vitamins and minerals

All active children and teens need vitamins and minerals. Calcium and iron are two important minerals for athletes. 

  • Calcium helps to build strong bones, preventing breaks and fractures. 
    • Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products such as milk and cheese and leafy greens such as broccoli and spinach. 
  • Iron is essential for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, including the muscles used heavily during workouts. 
    • Iron-rich foods include lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, leafy greens, dried fruit, and fortified grains. 

2. Protein

Athletes need protein to help rebuild and repair muscles. However, your child is most likely already receiving enough protein through a balanced diet. It is a common misconception that excess protein will lead to bigger muscles. Protein powders and supplements, especially, are unnecessary for children under 18 as they may harm the kidneys and cause dehydration. Regular protein sources include lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and soy. As a general rule of thumb, your child should consume between 0.7 and 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Here are examples of the protein content in a variety of foods:

  • 2 eggs (medium sized)  = 12 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of milk = 8 grams of protein
  • 6 oz of Greek yogurt = 17 grams
  • 2 slices of turkey = 16 grams of protein
  • 2 slices of cheese = 14 grams of protein
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread = 7 grams of protein
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter = 8 grams of protein
  • 3 oz of chicken (the size of a deck of cards) = 26 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of brown rice = 5 grams of protein

3. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an essential energy source for young athletes. They provide immediate glucose and are the only nutrient digested fast enough to provide energy for high-intensity workouts. Refined carbohydrates, such as sugary drinks, may provide a burst of energy but will lead to a quick crash. When possible, choose whole-food carbs, including whole grains, whole wheat, and fruits, instead of processed snacks.

Once a body has burned through carbohydrates, it will turn to stored fat for energy, making fat the second most important energy source for young athletes. Healthy, unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados, fish, nuts and seeds, and beans.

4. Water

While a balanced diet means eating food in appropriate amounts, an athlete can never have too much water! Water is essential for everyone, but even more so for athletes because they become dehydrated as their body temperature increases and they sweat. Athletes should be drinking water before, during, and after working out instead of waiting until they feel thirsty.

If physical activity lasts less than one hour, the best drink choice is water. If physical activity lasts longer than one hour, or is under one hour but is very intense, or if the temperature and humidity levels are very high and your child is sweating profusely, a sports drink will provide hydration and electrolytes that will replace what is lost in sweat. Choose a sports drink with the shortest ingredient list, the least sodium, and the least added sugars. Healthier options for electrolyte drinks without added sugars are coconut water and milk.


Nutrition is a very important component of fitness and athletic performance. It is crucial for your child to properly fuel their body every day, not just when a game or competition is approaching. A properly fueled body leads to better practices, which leads to better performance, as well as better mental fitness. If your child needs extra support maintaining a well-balanced diet, whether they are an athlete or not, the nutrition team at BCHP can help! For more information, call 914-614-4260.