Adequate Diet for Child Athletes: A Helpful Guide

Child athletes require greater energy intake for their intellectual and physical development, so it's advisable to balance the consumption of carbohydrates, sugar, vitamins, and minerals in their diet. 
Adequate Diet for Child Athletes: A Helpful Guide

Last update: 09 June, 2019

Every child must consume foods that provide sufficient essential nutrients to achieve optimal development; both physical and intellectual. This requirement becomes more demanding when practicing any physical activity. What are the characteristics of an adequate diet for child athletes?

Just as fish need water to live and cars need fuel to move, the muscles of living beings need a sufficient supply of sugars to perform their function and to stay fit in perfect harmony.

This sugar is supplied by carbohydrates when consuming foods that contain it in large proportions. Examples include bread, pasta and legumes, among others.

Particularly during periods of training, and even more so in the immediate hours of sports competitions, it’s customary to provide athletes with a certain amount of sugary substances.

This practice is due to the fact that carbohydrates, starch and sugar transform into blood sugar or dextrose through digestive actions. This substance is mainly responsible for providing muscle energy.

Adequate diet for child athletes in short-term competitions

In short-term competitions, child athletes are usually given foods such as fruits with honey, compotes, syrup, or simply sugar diluted in half a glass of water. During soccer activities, it’s a routine rule to supply players with 15 grams of sugar. They take half before the game starts and the other half during the break.

According to experts, athletes clearly feel an invigorating effect when eating sugar since it provides strength and encouragement while exercising. It’s advisable to consult with a specialist about the exact amount that should be supplied. This will depend on the age of the child, the sport, and the kid’s physiological condition.

Adequate Diet for Child Athletes: A Helpful Guide

There’s not much difference between the diet of a child athlete and one who doesn’t perform physical activity. We can outline the ideal diet for these little athletes by finding a balance between all food groups. The goal is to replenish the calories their bodies need to fulfill all their functions, especially after practicing sports.

To prepare before a short competition, an adequate diet for male or female child athletes should contain a mix of meat and vegetables.

It’s necessary to limit meat consumption, except in the first phase of training. In their most advanced stage, they must reduce or replace their protein intake with larger amounts of carbohydrates (sugar, rice, potatoes and legumes).

Food that child athletes should consume

A child usually consumes between 1600 and 2200 calories daily. This amount increases for obvious reasons with the practice of sports. In an hour of intense training, children can burn about 700 calories, and if they extend the session by 60 minutes more, they can burn up to 1200 calories.

To carry out adequate nutrition in children who are athletes, parents should ensure that the substances contained in the foods that make up their children’s menu promote better absorption of sugar in the muscles. Some of these are:

  • Common salt – sodium chloride – and potassium. Present in potatoes, legumes, milk, fruits and bread, among other foods.
  • Phosphoric acid. Its salts abound in cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, radish, and in the yolk of fresh eggs.

Carbohydrates, starch, and sugar transform into blood sugar through digestive actions. This substance is responsible for providing muscle energy.

Other foods that shouldn’t be missing in the diet of child athletes are fruits rich in fiber, grains, vegetables (preferably steamed), whole milk, chicken, fish and red meat.

There are some recommendations for the upcoming days before a competition. They should avoid fibrous or flatulent foods, such as artichokes and cabbages, in order to avoid stomach ailments.

Adequate Diet for Child Athletes: A Helpful Guide

We must have the utmost respect for the characteristics and quantity of food that our child athletes consume. A highly caloric diet, in other words, a copious meal, limits the ability of assimilation of the digestive system and, therefore, decreases athletic performance.

It’s about finding the right balance: heavy digestion can considerably impede sports performance. On the contrary, eating too light before exercising can cause a sensation of hunger due to a lack of sugar in the blood.

Whether we have children who have already started or who are about to initiate a sports discipline, we should consult with a nutritionist to help us design the ideal diet plan for them. As we mentioned, this will depend on their age, build, sport and other features.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate? Pediatrics. Junio 2011. 127 (6): 1182-9.
  • Gorissen SH., Horstman AM., Franssen R., Crombag JJ., et al., Ingestión of wheat protein increases in vivo muscle protein synthesis rates in healthy older men in a randomized trial. J Nutr, 2016. 146 (9): 1651-9.
  • Khong TK., Selvanayagam VS., Hamzah SH., Yusof A., Effect of quantity and quality of pre exercise carbohydrate meals on central fatigue. J Apple Physiol, 2018. 125 (4): 1021-1029.
  • Sánchez-Valverde Visus F, Moráis López A, et al. Recomendaciones nutricionales para el niño deportista. Asociación Española de Pediatría. Agosto 2014. 81 (2): 125e1-125e6.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.