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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children


Feed your young athlete for maximum performance

Tammy Roberts, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Young football players during a gameEating healthfully helps an athlete to reach maximum potential. Good stamina and energy are a result of eating healthy meals on a regular basis. The timing of meals and choice of food can also have an impact on physical performance.


One of the most important things for a young athlete to know is that the energy they use on game day actually comes from the food they have eaten over the past several days so it is important to eat well every day, not just on game day. Eating well every day means eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups. To get a general recommendation for amounts needed from each group, go to


On game day, two to four hours before the game, have a lean protein and carbohydrate source along with a low-fiber fruit like juice, peaches, cherries or melon. High fiber could cause an upset stomach during the game. An example of the lean protein with carbohydrate meal could be a turkey sandwich or cereal with milk.


If the young athlete hasn’t eaten within four hours of game time, a pre-game snack two hours or so before the game is important. Some examples of a good snack include cereal with low-fat milk, yogurt, graham crackers with fruit, and pudding with whole wheat crackers. All athletes have to decide what will settle best on their stomach. Stomach problems occur most often in running sports because of the up and down motion. Stomach problems also occur more often in young athletes and athletes who are tense. A snack less than one hour before the game is more likely to cause stomach upset. (There are instances though when eating during exercise can have a benefit.)


Games and hard practices can take a toll on the body. Recovery of the body is important for the next practice or game. A good breakfast is important every day, but it is especially important after a hard practice or a game. That breakfast will help the body to recover so it is ready for the next event.


A well-nourished athlete is an athlete that is able to perform at his/her absolute best. Keep healthy foods on hand so your young athlete is ready for a winning performance.


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Last update: Monday, September 18, 2017