Pre & Post Game Nutrition for Young Athletes

Pre & Post Game Nutrition for Young Athletes

(Image courtesy of The New Agenda)

One of my favourite parts of my job, is spending time with young athletes and educating them on how to reduce the rates of injury in their sport. This past weekend I spend the day with the Brampton Rebels U-9 soccer club, a very inquisitive and rambunctious group of 9-year-old girls. It was a blast! We talked about squatting, cramping, hydration; they asked a lot of great questions. So I’ve  decided to post some of the highlights of this conversation and hopefully this information will help keep your young athlete healthy this season.

Pre and Post Game Nutrition is just as important as stretching and strengthening is to staying injury free during a season. We can’t go on a long road trip without putting gas in our cars and we can’t expect our young athletes to perform optimally without providing them with the right fuel.

Pre Game Nutrition

Our bodies fuel of choice is glycogen or sugar. It’s needed to give our muscles the energy needed to perform. Pre game nutrition really starts the night before, because it can take 24-48 hours to really stock your muscles with glycogen so athletes walk onto the field totally fueled.

The day of, pre-game meals should be consumed 2-3 hours before the practice/game.  If time is short, a lighter meal or snack should be eaten 1 hour before the practice/game.  The composition of a pre-game meal should be familiar, easily digested foods.  Avoid foods high in fat (anything fried) or exceptionally high in fiber (5 grams or more like beans or some higher fiber cereals).  These will slow down digestion and increase the likelihood of cramping and bloating during the activity.

These meals should be made up of 3 constants:

1. Complex Carbohydrates– Two categories are used when referring to carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates such as enriched flour, found in refined breads, pastas, and sugary foods, provide calories but few nutrients. Complex carbohydrate sources, such as whole-grain breads, starchy vegetables and beans, deliver fiber, as well as valuable amounts of vitamins and minerals. Look for foods that are also high in fibre. Foods that provide between 2.5 and 4.9 grams per serving are considered good fiber sources.

Examples: Whole grain pasta , oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa, starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, beans, peas and lentils. 

2. Lean Meat – Meat is high in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. But it’s important to differentiate between lean meats and those high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are your leanest poultry choices; as for beef, round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, chuck shoulder and arm roasts are the leanest cuts. Plant based protein foods include yogurt, tofu, legumes and nuts.

3. Water –  Athletic performance can be affected even by mild dehydration so make sure your athlete has 1-2 cups of water before they even get to the game/practice (more if it’s a hot day!),  and that they are constantly drinking throughout the game. Most players need at least ½ – 1 cups of water for every 15-20 minutes during exercise. Plain water is usually all you need to keep kids adequately hydrated.



If you are providing your kids with a multi vitamin, make sure the following supplements and doses are including as each is important in a child’s development, especially young athletes.

1. Calcium is important for bone health, normal enzyme activity and muscle contraction. The daily recommended intake of calcium is 1000 mg/day for four to eight-year-olds and 1300 mg/day for nine to 18-year-olds. Calcium is contained in a variety of foods and beverages, including milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach and fortified grain products.

2. Vitamin D is necessary for bone health and is involved in the absorption and regulation of calcium. Current recommendations suggest 600 IU/day for four to 18-year-olds. Sources of vitamin D include fortified foods, such as milk, and sun exposure. Dairy products other than milk, such as yogurt, do not contain vitamin D.

3. Iron is important for oxygen delivery to body tissues. During adolescence, more iron is required to support growth as well as increases in blood volume and lean muscle mass.Boys and girls nine to 13 years of age should ingest 8 mg/day to avoid depletion of iron stores and iron-deficiency anemia. Adolescents 14 to 18 years of age require more iron, up to 11 mg/day for males and 15 mg/day for females. Iron depletion is common in athletes because of diets poor in meat, fish and poultry, or increased iron losses in urine, feces, sweat or menstrual blood. Therefore, athletes, particularly female athletes, vegetarians and distance runners should be screened periodically for iron status.  Iron-rich foods include eggs, leafy green vegetables, fortified whole grains and lean meat.


Post Game Nutrition

The same 3 constants applied to pre game nutrition apply to post game nutrition. It is recommended to start with a snack followed by a full meal. Most athletes won’t want of be able to consume a full meal right after play. Post-game meals should include a combination carbohydrate-protein snack within 30 minutes of the completion of a practice/game followed by  a full meal within 2 hours.

Post Game Snack Examples : wheat crackers & cheese, apples & peanut butter, granola bar, trail mix (dried fruit, cereal and nuts)

Beware of the sports drink. Sugar-sweetened drinks like sports drinks often provide calories without much nutrition. Most young kids are not playing hard enough and sweating enough to need electrolyte replacement provided by these drinks. Water is an acceptable drink for most recreational sports.

Pre & Post Game Meal Examples:

  • Baked Potato with Greek Yogurt
  • Lentil Soup
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat Pasta with meat sauce
  • Lean Meat Sandwich
  • Fish Tacos
  • include a side salad with each meal and fruit desert

Planning meals for athletes can be time consuming but the payoff makes it worthwhile. Young athletes will feel more energized and their bodies will be better prepared for sport.  They’ll have more productive workouts when they refuel correctly and can reduce their risk of injury. When families are involved in these meals, everyone benefits.

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Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle
Dr Nekessa Remy

My mission for this website is based on my belief that Healthy Living is a RIGHT and not a PRIVILEGE. A Healthy lifestyle should be attainable to anybody who wants it. It is our right to have the information we need to make healthy choices and to ultimately be in control of our own health. Be our own HEALTH ADVOCATES! Here, you will be provided with only the most relevant and accessible information. Take from it what you need. I am here to be your biggest support, your champion and your guide to a journey of healthy living. So let’s get started!

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