Student-Athlete Nutrition

Students require sufficient nutrition in order to have energy for growth, daily studies and other activities.  Boys aged 11 to 18 need about 2,500 calories each day and girls need 2,200 calories daily. Teenagers should also consume additional protein, calcium, iron, dietary fibre, and other multi-vitamins.  Athletes require even more.  They should follow good nutrition habits in preparation for peak performance, repair tissue that has been broken down from competition, reduce active recovery time, and lower the chance of injuries. An extra-curricular athlete needs an additional five to six hundred calories.

Poor nutrition – especially before a training session, practice or competition – leads to diminished physical and mental performance and an increased risk of injury.  Over the long-term, this contributes to mood changes, fatigue and obesity. Dieticians do not feel that high school and collegiate athletes possess the sophistication to alter their diets without guidance.  Student-athletes can improve their performance is to consume a healthy snack before late afternoon exercise.

Encourage athletes to consume enough protein and carbohydrates before and after exercise to meet their energy and recovery needs. Adequate fluid intake is also important.  For peak physical and mental performance, athletes should maintain high levels of blood glucose.  Whenever blood glucose levels fall, the intensity of exercise will drop, in addition to mental fatigue and irritability.

Feeding the Mind

  • The brain’s energy requirements are met by aerobic glucose degradation.
  • At rest, the brain consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy.
    • Without replacement, the brain would be depleted in ten minutes.
  • Food insufficiently is a serious impediment to learning ability.

Feeding the Body

  • Dieticians do not feel that high school athletes possess the sophistication to alter their diets without the intervention of coaches or experts.
  • Left to their own devices, teenagers will fall into bad eating habits and need mentors and role models.
    • Ignoring sport participation, these habits lower their energy level and degree of focus in the classroom.
  • Athletes should not skip meals:
    • Performance of moderate to high-intensity exercise for forty-five minutes is enhanced by consuming moderately high carbohydrate, low fat, and low protein meal three hours before
  • Intake should be balanced between carbohydrates, proteins, and fats:
    • Each food group provides different amount of energy but it is also important to consider the body’s construction and replace what has been lost during exercise.


  • Daily breakfast eaters eat healthier and are more physically active.
  • Twelve to twenty-four percent of youth regularly skip breakfast.
  • Skipping breakfast reduces memory and decision-making tasks.
    • School breakfast programs appear to improve cognitive functioning.


  • Athletes should consume close to sixty grams of protein daily.
  • If athletes do not consume enough protein fuel, they will burn lean muscle mass and not make the athletic progress that they expect.
  • It is important to consume quality proteins which will provide enough energy.


  • Calcium develops strong and dense bones.
  • Adolescent athletes require fifteen hundred mg of calcium, although they only consume just over a thousand mg.


  • As teenagers grow muscle mass, iron helps deliver oxygen for energy.
  • Iron-deficiency leads to anaemia, reduced Anaerobic performance, fatigue, confusion, and weakness.
  • Anaemic students also perform poorly academically.
  • Iron deficiency can take up to six months to correct.

Dietary Fibre

  • Since 1965, youth have received less energy from fibre and more from fat because they do not consume enough whole grains, pasta, and rice.
  • Teens benefit less from the anti-oxidant effects of dietary fibre.


  • The consumption of multi-vitamins and other supplements can help prevent vitamin imbalances caused by the frequency and duration of training sessions.
  • Most high school athletes do not meet their recommended intake of Vitamins, B, C, and E, which have anti-oxidant properties.

Adolescents and Food Consumption

  • Sixty to eighty percent of adolescents snack during the morning and eighty to ninety percent in the afternoon.
  • Given the prevalence of fast foods and convenience store snacks and the lack of nutrition education, many students do not make wise choices:
    • Most youth do not meet the recommendations for eating 2½ to 6½ cups of fruits and vegetables and two to three ounces of fibre daily.
    • Empty calories from added sugars and fats comprise forty percent of daily calories for children and adolescents.
    • On average, teenagers consume more soda per day (twenty-two ounces) than milk (ten ounces).

Athletes and Food Consumption

  • Snacks before a workout should contain simple carbohydrates that will fuel the workout; snacks during and after training should include protein and carbohydrates to replenish what has been lost.
  • Combine nutrition with hydration.

Students and Food Consumption

  • In order to remain alert and focused, the brain must also be nourished.
  • Students who are hungry suffer from mood and memory difficulties.
  • Protein can stimulate these brain cells more effectively than sugar.
    • Protein also activates the brain cells which tell the body to use up energy stores.
    • A balance of nutrients is more critical to energy than the total number of calories.
  • Orexin cells inspire focus and regulate energy balance.
    • Sugar and carbohydrates block these cells, causing sluggishness.
    • Protein counteracts this lethargy.

Creating an Effective Snack

  • A high protein snack improves alertness in the afternoon.
    • Mix proteins among multiple meals and snacks.
    • Suggestions: nuts, dairy products, soy products.
  • Low Glycemic Index carbohydrates creates a consistent energy supply for afternoon classes and practices.
    • Suggestions: include fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  • Include fluids to fight dehydration without overloading on sugar or caffeine.
  • Eating lunch at noon and a recovery snack at 6:00pm after practice may be too long between meals.
    • Try not to go more than three hours between eating.


  • Carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose, which fuels muscles
  • Muscles store blood glucose as glycogen
  • Consider replenishing glycogen stores before (between 1-4 hours before) and after exercise by consuming carbohydrates
  • Athletes should be consuming complex carbohydrates early in the day and after competition, not high-sugar soft drinks.
  • Types of carbs: Fruit, vegetables, grains, and milk

Snacks before Exercise

  • Snacks should contain sufficient fluid to maintain hydration and be low in fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates that are difficult to digest.
  • The snack should consist of simple carbohydrates that will maintain blood glucose levels and replenish glycogen stores.
  • Suggestions for snacks before activity:
    • fruits, vegetables, and grains, such as a Nutri-grain or granola bar

Recovery after Exercise

  • Snack should include some protein and carbohydrates to replenish what has been lost.
  • For recovery after workout, consume 1.5g of carbs for every kg of body weight and about 6g of protein total.
  • If training to improve physical performance, consume at least 7g of carbs and 1.2-1.7g of protein per kg of body weight.
  • Snacks should be familiar to the athlete to avoid indigestion.
    • High school athletes should keep snacks in their locker to avoid the temptation of high sugar at the convenience store.
  • Keep snacks handy in a locker for the trip home.
    • Avoid high sugar snacks.
  • Suggestions for recovery snacks:
    • Grains: multi-grain bagels, brown rice cakes, whole wheat toast
    • Protein: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, chocolate milk
    • Fruit: bananas, carrots, berries, other cut fruit or vegetables
    • Fluids: water, juice or sport drink diluted with water


  • Athletes should consume a variety of healthy choices every two to four hours
  • Many athletes do not consume enough energy due to a variety of reasons:
    • Personal Taste: suggest healthy items that are also fun and delicious
    • Lack of Understanding: devote time to the discussion of good nutrition
    • Lack of Initiative: food should be easy to prepare and access
  • Symptoms of under-fuelling include low overall energy, poor performance, lack of concentration, irritability, and slower recovery time.
  • Make good choices when eating on the road.
  • Choosing healthy meals can make the difference between an excellent performance and one that needs improvement.
  • Planning ahead to find restaurants that meet the needs of young athletes facilitates trips.

Athletes Refuelling Needs

  • Recovery nutrition achieves the following functions:
    • Refuelling muscle and liver glycogen stores.
    • Replacing fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.
    • Manufacturing new muscle protein, red blood cells and other cellular components
    • Maintaining the immune system.
  • All meals should include a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fluids.

When and What to Eat

  • Consuming protein with carbohydrates improves metabolism and uptake of nutrients.
  • Eating a meal with 2g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight and 40g protein within two hours accelerates recovery and regeneration.
  • Basketball players lose one percent of their body weight (or more) during games. The average player must replace 2.3L of fluids.
  • Essential fatty acids boost immune system and cardiovascular health.
  • Nutrients such as iron, dietary fibre and calcium also boost sports performance.

Meal Breakdown

Component Purpose Good Examples Bad Examples
Carbohydrates replenish energy stores whole wheat grains provide long-lasting energy processed or packaged grains lead to an energy spike followed by a crash
Protein promote muscle repair and control spike in blood sugar lean protein (turkey, chicken) and fish red meat can be high in fat and should be limited
Fats deliver cell building blocks and add flexibility to cell membranes Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids are found in nuts, seeds, dark leafy vegetables and fish saturated fats interfere with the metabolism of energy
Fluids replenish lost fluid lost to sweat, improve performance and prevent heat illness consume mostly water to meet the huge fluid needs from playing basketball processed drinks may contain excessive sugar or sodium

Make It Easy to Eat Healthy

  • Self-talk, supportive mentors (such as parents, teachers, coaches), and environmental reminders and coaches can serve as nudges to reinforce positive decisions.
  • Structure choices in restaurants, food courts and hotels so that young athletes choose to consume healthy meals and snacks.
  • Identify restaurants ahead of time to make the most of the short times between games and unknown environment when travelling.

Compare and Contrast


Good Choice
Subway Combo 6” Turkey Breast Whole Wheat Chocolate Milk Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Total
Serving Size 217g 500ml 45g
Calories 290 360 200 850
Total Fat (g) 4 5 8 17
Saturated Fat (g) 1 6 3 10
Trans Fat (g) 0 0.4 5 5.4
Cholesterol (mg) 20 40 0 60
Sodium (mg) 760 240 130 1130
Carbohydrates (g) 46 55 20 121
Dietary Fibre (g) 5 5 1 11
Sugar (g) 7 44 16 67
Protein (g) 17 17 3 37
Vitamin A (%DV) 8 20 0 28
Vitamin C (%DV) 20 0 0 20
Calcium (%DV) 6 25 2 33
Iron (%DV) 20 12 6 38

Needs Improvement
McDonald’s Combo Big Mac Medium Coke Medium Fries Total
Serving Size 209g 495ml 110g
Calories 530 220 350 1100
Total Fat (g) 29 0 17 46
Saturated Fat (g) 10 0 2 12
Trans Fat (g) 0.5 0 0.2 0.7
Cholesterol (mg) 70 10 0 80
Sodium (mg) 970 56 260 1286
Carbohydrates (g) 44 0 46 90
Dietary Fibre (g) 3 56 4 63
Sugar (g) 9 0 0 9
Protein (g) 23 0 4 27
Vitamin A (%DV) 8 0 0 8
Vitamin C (%DV) 2 0 0 2
Calcium (%DV) 20 0 2 22
Iron (%DV) 30 0 6 36


Good Choices Needs Improvement
Whole Grain Bagel with Cream Cheese Bag of Almonds Mars Bar Doritos
Calories 470 164 250 260
Total Fat (g) 22 14 12 13
Saturated Fat (g) 9.5 1.1 5 2
Trans Fat (g) 0.4 0 0 0
Cholesterol (mg) 40 0 5 0
Sodium (mg) 580 0 120 360
Carbohydrates (g) 59 5.6 0 32
Deitary Fibre (g) 6 3.3 32 2
Sugar (g) 11 1.4 27 1
Protein (g) 12 6 4 3
Vitamin A (%DV) 15 0 2 0
Vitamin C (%DV) 0 0 0 0
Calcium (%DV) 66 7 4 6
Iron (%DV) 25 7 2 4

List of Resources