Fueling Young Champions: Nutrition Tips for Youth Athletes Ages 3-14

As parents, coaches, and guardians, we play a crucial role in supporting the athletes in our lives. One key aspect often overlooked is post-game nutrition for young athletes aged 3-14. Proper fueling and snacking can significantly impact their performance, recovery, and overall well-being. We’re sharing tips for post-game nutrition, eating on the go, and recovery strategies to ensure your young champions get the nutrients they need!

Fuel for Youth Sports

Youth sports participation is on the rise, and so is the need for tailored nutrition strategies. The term “fueling” refers to providing the body with the necessary nutrients to perform optimally. For young athletes, this involves understanding the specific energy demands of their activities and tailoring nutrition accordingly.

Key Nutrients for Young Athletes

Below are key nutrients and how they help improve performance. We recommend speaking with your doctor or nutritionist to come up with a diet plan that suits your child’s specific needs, but these are still good facts to know as you prepare meals for your kids!

Protein (Repair):

Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. This is why you hear fitness influencers and experts talk about how much protein they eat in a day. Protein is just as important for young athletes! But this doesn’t mean start feeding your kids protein shakes like you may have after the gym. Protein shakes are not typically recommended for kids unless their doctor or nutritionist determine they aren’t getting enough from a regular diet. Instead, incorporate lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, eggs, and plant-based options like beans and tofu into post-game snacks to help your kids meet their protein needs and support muscle growth.

Carbohydrates (Re-Fuel):

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. Choose carbohydrates like grains (rice, pasta, potatoes), fruits, dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) and vegetables to provide sustained energy for active kids. Our bodies need these natural energy sources in order to stay active!

Hydration (Re-Hydrate):

Staying hydrated is crucial for performance and recovery. Encourage water intake before, during, and after sports activities. If you’re playing in hot environments or training longer than 60 minutes, sports drinks should be considered to replenish fluids and electrolytes. 

Healthy Fats (Reinforce):

Include sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, seeds, fatty fish (salmon/Tuna), nut butters, nuts, and olive oil, to support brain health, hormone production, inflammation & soreness reduction, and joint and tendon health.

Post-Game Recovery Tips

Post-game recovery is a critical component of a young athlete’s routine. Proper recovery helps reduce the risk of injury, improves overall performance, and sets the stage for future success. Nutrition plays a vital role in the recovery process by replenishing energy stores and repairing muscles.

Timing is Key

Aim to provide a post-game snack within 30-60 minutes after the activity to optimize nutrient absorption and replenish fuel stores.

Sleep (Rest)

Striving for at least 8-10 hours a night is critical for young athletes to be able to physically and mentally recover for the next bout of exercise and school the following day.

Individualized Approach

Every young athlete is unique, and their nutritional needs may vary. Pay attention to their preferences and dietary requirements to tailor post-game fueling accordingly.

Post-Game Snack Ideas

Below are meal and snack ideas you can try today to help your young athlete optimize their post-game fueling!


    1. Lean Meatballs (80/20), ziti pasta with marinara, and roasted broccoli
    2. Sirloin steak, baked potato and asparagus
    3. Mexican style ground turkey, yellow rice, black beans & sauteed peppers and onions


    1. Greek Yogurt Parfait: Yogurt, granola, & berries
    2. Cinnamon rice cakes topped with peanut butter and slice bananas
    3. Smoothie: Milk, strawberries, blueberries, chia/flax seeds, ice and honey

To-Go Orders

Busy families are often on the go, especially when moving from game to game. Eating fast food is sometimes the only option. Here are three fast-food meals that are on the healthier side:

      1. Chipotle: Bowl with chicken, rice, guacamole, lettuce, fajita vegetables, corn and salsa
      2. Chick-Fil-A: Grilled chicken sandwich, mac n cheese, fruit cup and a milk
      3. Subway: Multi-grain bread, steak, cheese, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, mustard

Post-game fueling and snacking are integral components of supporting young athletes in their journey towards success. By understanding the importance of proper nutrition and choosing healthier snacks for kids, you can contribute to the overall well-being and performance of your future champions. Let’s empower young athletes with the right fuel to reach their full potential on and off the field!

About the Author

shawn pitcher

Shawn Pitcher

Shawn is a Performance Dietitian at Ft. Novosel Airforce Base. He is there first ever dietitian on base dedicated to helping vertical lift pilots fuel, hydrate and sleep to optimize their performance in their aircrafts.

He was previously the Head of sports nutrition at Overtime Elite and where he was their first full Dietitian in the league's history. Shawn joined OTE from IMG Academy (2019-2022) where he was the performance dietitian for football & soccer.

Since 2015, Shawn has had the opportunity to work with multiple levels of athletics. These include Ole Miss (2018), Nationwide Children's Hospital (2017), University of Missouri (2016), Pittsburg State (2016), University of Buffalo (2015) & Buffalo State University (2010-2015).

Shawn is a native of Endicott New York. He played Football collegiately (NCAA-III) at Buffalo State, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Buffalo State. He continued his education at Pittsburg State University where he obtained his Masters of Science.


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2. sportsrd607@gmail.com

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