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Navigating nutrition: Is your young athlete consuming the right foods?

Navigating nutrition: Is your young athlete consuming the right foods?


By Ker’Shyra Myrick

Playing sports is a great way to keep kids in shape. Despite their activity, it is important for an athlete to develop healthy eating habits at a young age, too.

The saying “You are what you eat,” is true in many ways. Kids who eat healthy, balanced meals tend to perform better than kids who do not. Healthy eating also helps kids stay more alert, energized and performing at their best.

Debra Tendrich, Founder and CEO of a non-profit organization called Eat Better Live Better (EBLB), is on a mission to combat and control childhood obesity. SportingKid Live spoke with Tendrich to get her take on what young athletes should be eating on and off the field.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is the best diet for young athletes?

TENDRICH: The best diet would be a well balanced diet filled with lean meat, produce and complex carbohydrate choices. A high carbohydrate diet full of complex carbs will act as the primary fuel source. Another thing of importance is to eat plenty of protein to build and repair body tissues. The protein will also support physical growth and development. Moderate to low amounts of fats will ensure readily available calories from the carbohydrates and lean proteins. One of the most important attributes to the diet would be drinking loads of water! Balancing the diet and ensuring the foods are quality foods and not processed will fulfill essential vitamin and mineral needs. Also, adequate and nutritious snacks are important.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is the best food for young athletes to eat before playing in a game?

TENDRICH: Start the day with a breakfast containing carbs (such as whole-grain bread or oatmeal or fruit) and a source of protein (such as eggs or chicken breast). Also, add a vegetable smoothie and a glass of water to get enough essential vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, which are all great breakfast choices.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is the worst food to eat before playing in a game?

TENDRICH: Fatty foods like fried foods – including French fries, chicken strips, fried chicken and onion rings. Also, kids should avoid eating fatty cuts of meat such as hamburgers and bacon. Protein before a game is ok, but just not too much. Normally, protein sounds good, and is very important overall, just not immediately prior to a game. Protein bars and shakes have artificial sweeteners, and avoiding artificial sweeteners before a game is important because they can mess with digestion.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Do foods differ by sport?

TENDRICH: Yes. Cross country runners and weightlifters’ recommended nutritional intake varies. However, proper nutrition and hydration are important for all sports. Your diet will be tailored to your needs whether it is for muscle mass, endurance or long distance running, while simultaneously preventing fatigue.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is water the only fluid athletes should drink?

TENDRICH: No. Coconut water is a good, healthy hydration method. However, nothing replaces water. Sports drinks do have electrolytes, but they are saturated with sugar which has tons of adverse effects. Adequate electrolytes can be found in nutritious foods and if the diet is adequate, and the body is hydrated with water, sports drinks will not be required.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What tips can you give parents who do not always have time to cook during the week?


  1. Invest in a Crockpot and put in a meal in the morning and it will be ready that evening. 
  2. Cook some meals over the weekend, freeze them, and they will be ready for the week.
  3. Have sandwiches on whole grain or Ezekiel bread made and kept crisp in zip lock bags for an easy dinner night. Place a piece of wax paper in between each slice of bread and the middle to prevent the bread from getting soggy.
  4. For easy snacks, prepare celery and peanut butter, sliced apples, and oranges in advance.

There are also several healthy meal companies that deliver pre-prepared meals at your doorstep. The meals generally range in price from $7—$12 dollars each, and are very healthy.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Are there any habits young athletes should break? 

TENDRICH: Eating junk food and drinking energy drinks. Many athletes think they can eat whatever they want because they are “in shape” and don’t realize the long term effects that nutrition-less, sugar packed and processed foods have on their bodies. There are so many cleaner food choices that will create much greater results.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s a common mistake parents of young athletes make when it comes to nutrition?

TENDRICH: Not eating enough protein and feeding their children fast food assuming that they will burn off the calories. It isn’t just about the calories when it comes to fast food. It is what is put into fast food. Studies show there is an increased need for protein in young athletes compared to their non-athlete peers. Athletes are building more muscle during exercise and need a bit more protein for the muscle repair work that occurs after exercise. For instance, a young athlete will need about an extra 20 grams of protein per day based on a 100 pound athlete or an extra 25 to 40 grams of protein per day in the 140 pound athlete.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: If kids have early morning games how important is the meal the night before and what should it consist of?

TENDRICH: It’s very important. The night before, serve your child a nutritious and balanced dinner to include large portions of whole grains or sweet potato, vegetables and also small to medium portions of beans, chicken, fish or meat. One to two hours before the game the athlete should eat a piece of whole grain toast or Ezekiel bread, an unsweetened Greek yogurt (can be sweetened with a few pieces of fruit) or egg whites and a big glass of water.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: If you were talking to a group of parents what is the No. 1 point you would want them to understand when it comes to proper nutrition for a young athlete?

TENDRICH: These kids need a consistent diet that is as far away from fast food as possible. Also, stay hydrated, eat properly, and snack properly. Parents often forget how important a healthy snack can be in a young athlete’s health. If you eat healthy meals and stay hydrated, but snack poorly, that goes against all the hard work and commitment you have made as a parent and your child has made as an athlete.

Nutrition Health Carbohydrates Protein

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