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Nutrition Tips for the Student Athlete

Nutrition Tips for the Student Athlete

According to the “Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America” survey, 69 percent of girls and 75 percent of boys currently participate in organized and team sports. Children participating in team sports receive several health benefits including improved physical fitness, reduced body fat levels, decreased risk for developing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, better bone health, increased self-esteem and emotional well-being. Nutrition plays a key role in athletic performance and recovery yet many student athletes show up to practice dehydrated and underfed. Performance suffers and chances for injury increase when young athletes don’t pay attention to fueling their bodies.

Research suggests children and adolescents, whether or not they play sports, are not meeting basic nutrition needs like eating breakfast every day and consuming the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat and fat-free dairy foods.  For most student athletes, meeting these goals would help them have consistent energy through the day for both study and sports.  

It is good to remember the sports nutrition guidelines to enhance performance or aid recovery only come into play when the athlete engages in intense physical activity for more than 60 minutes per day.  When you need to fuel multiple practices per day and long tournaments, here are 4 tips to make sure your student athlete has top notch nutrition.

1. Hydrate Every Hour

Awareness of dehydration is especially important for young athletes in Mississippi as there are still several hot months ahead. Dehydration can affect athletic performance and put athletes at risk of heat injury. Preventing dehydration starts with your athlete drinking consistently throughout the day. Skipping meals will further compound dehydration as food can contribute about 20% of your daily fluid needs.  Student athletes can see how they’re doing with hydration by checking for light to clear urine.  Brightly colored urine means fluid needs are not being met and more work is needed to get fluids in.

For practice or competition, make fluids easily accessible. Sports drinks containing energy from carbohydrates and electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, hydrate better than plain water and are appropriate when intense physical activity will extend beyond one hour. Remember to use sports drinks appropriately. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, routinely drinking sports beverages can lead to an excess consumption of calories and put youth at risk of becoming overweight and obese. 

2. Power Up with Protein

Protein is essential for growth and development in children and adolescents, so it is important to be aware of the protein needs in your student athlete. Student athletes need strong muscles for good athletic performance and muscles are made of protein. However, it is a misconception that you will build strong muscles by eating large amounts of protein – you must also exercise which breaks down and builds stronger muscles. Young athletes should be aware of lean protein choices and select them over frequently consumed burgers, bacon, sausages and fried foods. Examples of lean protein meals and snacks include: 

· 8 oz low-fat chocolate milk with 1 cup of fresh fruit

· 1 English muffin, toasted with 1 slice of low-fat American cheese, 1 cup of low-fat yogurt and 1 cup of fresh fruit

· 3 oz roasted turkey or ham on whole grain bun with 1 cup fresh fruit


3. Carbohydrates are Crucial 

Carbohydrates are the key fuel source needed during intense physical activity. There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates or simple sugars are mainly glucose which is easily digested by the body. Simple sugars don’t have much to offer in the way of other vitamins and minerals. However, when a game or practice is going to extend beyond an hour and it’s less than 2 hours until game time, simple carbohydrates without a lot of fiber are crucial so they can be quickly utilized for energy. Some examples include small bag of pretzels, a banana, 4 oz container of yogurt.  At all other times, young athletes will benefit most from nourishing sources of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.   

4. Recover and Repeat 

Recovery nutrition will make a difference for the athlete that needs to head back out on the field and repeat an intense performance the next day.  It takes time for the fluids, electrolytes, and energy stores lost during intense physical activity to be replenished so time is of the essence.  The best practice is to have a mini-meal or snack within an hour and a full and balanced meal within 2-3 hours after the intense effort is over.  Taste preferences matter and many students love the taste of low fat or fat free chocolate milk.  With its affordable combination of lean protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluid, chocolate milk is a great after practice or game beverage. In addition, chocolate milk also provides calcium and vitamin D, bone building nutrients needed for young athletes growing bodies.  The Chocolate Banana Frappe is a protein filled, chocolatey treat, making it an excellent recovery drink for young athletes. 

If you have a young athlete and are looking for more individualized sport nutrition recommendations, please contact a local registered dietitian. Or you may contact your local healthcare provider that may help you find a registered dietitian. 


Chocolate Banana Frappe


· 1 cup (8-ounces) low-fat chocolate milk

· 1 cup 2% milk

· 2 (6-ounce) containers vanilla Greek yogurt

· 1 large ripe banana, peeled

· 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

· 1 cup ice cubes

· Chocolate sprinkles (optional)


Slice banana and freeze for 30 minutes. Combine milk, yogurt, banana, cocoa powder and ice cubes in blender. Blend until smooth and frothy. Top with chocolate sprinkles, if desired.

Yield: 4 (8-ounce) servings (32 ounces)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Source: Rebecca Egsieker, The Dairy Chef


Stephanie Yow, MS, RD, CSP, LD is a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. She serves as a nutrition affairs program manager for the Southeast Dairy Association in Louisiana and Mississippi where she is responsible for providing health education on the importance of dairy in the diet to health professionals, educators and consumers.


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