A Young Athlete's Guide to Eating Before a Training Session
It’s clear to see how hard young athletes are working in training sessions, at the gym and the effort they put in on game day and in comps. So, why not add in a secret weapon to set them apart from the rest?
What a young athlete eats in the days and hours before their training sessions and competitions can give them an upper hand and help them on their way to the podium. We've taken a look at some pre-training nutrition essentials to make sure youth athletes are feeling the full benefit from the hard work they’re putting in and to set them up for victory!
Fuel to Win
Going into a session with a rumbling stomach is only going to end one way. Making sure your young athlete is fuelled and hydrated before they start training is the first step to success. Carbohydrates and glycogen are the bodies preferred energy source for moderate to intense exercise, so making sure youth athletes have full glycogen stores before they start is going keep them going for longer (1). Starting your training session with only half a tank will mean young athletes will tire quicker and might lag behind their competitors (2).
Head over to our guide on carbohydrates to learn how much each athlete should be using to fuel their training.
The Day Before
Start thinking about training days and competition a day or two before the session and get your nutrition dialed in from then. If it’s an endurance event then the days leading up to it are the time we need to start topping up the glycogen stores. If it’s a shorter event then focus on dinner the night before the event. Make sure your meal is high in carbohydrate and has a good source of protein as well. Try and keep fibre content lower, as this can often lead to stomach pains and discomfort.
Meal suggestions include:
- A large bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and chicken or a spaghetti Bolognese
- Stir-fry beef with plenty of noodles or rice
- A large jacket potato with baked beans
Check out our blog post on Competition Nutrition to learn more about what you should be eating in the build-up to a big event.
The Meal Before
If you’ve got an early morning session then a good breakfast should be a priority as the body hasn’t had an energy source all night. We often find early morning wake-ups and nerves can put young athletes off consuming a whole meal, so in these cases, try a homemade smoothie that they can sip on slowly. If your session is on an afternoon and evening, then lunch or dinner will be your pre-training meal. No matter the time of day, keep the focus the same: high carbohydrates and low fibre, with a small portion of protein in as well (2). And remember, this should be eaten 2-3 hours before training starts (1).
Meal suggestions include:
- Bowl of porridge made with semi-skimmed milk and a drizzle of honey or chopped banana
- Bowl of low sugar cereal such as corn flakes with semi-skimmed milk, a banana and glass of fruit juice
- Homemade fruit smoothie made from semi-skimmed milk, with a handful of oats thrown in
For the days when young athletes are coming straight from school to early evening sessions, the time spent traveling in the car is the perfect time to get a good snack into the body and top up the energy stores one last time (1). If young athletes don’t have time to eat a meal before training, then lunch that day and their pre-game snack are vital. These snacks should be an easily digestible source of carbohydrates. Keep it low in fat and fibre as these can take longer to digest and often cause stomach pain (1).
Snack suggestions include:
- Crumpets/ toast with jam or honey
- Small jam sandwich
- Handful of dried fruit
- Cereal bars such as Soreen bars or Go-Ahead fruit bake bars
For advice on recovery nutrition and what to eat during competitions, head over to our blog section where you'll find loads of useful articles, guides and interviews.
- Jeukendrup, A. (2012) Sports nutrition. Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport.
- Bean, A. (2013). Anita Bean's Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.