what does kids eat in football?
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What Should Kids Eat In Football? A Nutritional Guide

In the competitive world of youth football, where talent, training, and tenacity are key to success, the role of nutrition often emerges as a silent game-changer. Understanding and implementing a well-structured nutritional strategy can be the difference between a good player and a future champion.

This guide aims to illuminate the path to optimal performance and growth for young footballers through comprehensive nutritional insights. With the right nutritional foundation, young footballers can not only enhance their on-field performance but also set themselves up for a healthy, active lifestyle off the pitch.

Key Takeaways

AspectKey Takeaways
MacronutrientsCarbohydrates fuel performance; Proteins support growth and repair; Fats provide long-term energy.
MicronutrientsVitamins and minerals are crucial for optimal health and athletic performance.
Pre-Game NutritionTimely meals and hydration can significantly impact game-day performance.
During-Game NutritionMaintaining energy and hydration with snacks and fluids is vital for sustained performance.
Post-Game RecoveryCarbohydrates and protein for refueling; Hydration and electrolytes for recovery.
Special ConsiderationsConsider dietary restrictions, safe supplement use, and balancing life demands.
Sample Meal PlansTailored meal and snack ideas ensure nutritional balance and variety.
ConsultationAthletes should consult with a nutritionist for personalized guidance.

Understanding the Basics

In the journey of a young footballer, mastering the basics of nutritional needs is akin to perfecting the first touch in football. It sets the foundation for all future achievements on and off the field.


some basic macronutrients


Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for young footballers, powering through sprints, jumps, and the relentless pace of a match. They are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is quickly converted to energy during high-intensity activities.

A diet rich in carbohydrates ensures that these glycogen stores are replenished, keeping fatigue at bay and enabling sustained performance. Foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources.


Proteins are the building blocks of muscle, crucial for recovery and growth in young athletes. After intense training sessions or matches, muscles need protein to repair and grow stronger.

Incorporating a sufficient amount of protein from nutritional sources like lean meats, fish, dairy, and legumes into a young footballer’s diet can make a significant difference in their physical development and recovery times.


Fats often get a bad rap, but they are essential for young athletes, providing a concentrated source of energy and aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. They also play a vital role in supporting cell growth and hormone production.

Opting for healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish can promote long-term health benefits and sustained energy levels.


Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals, though needed in smaller amounts than macronutrients, are critical for a young athlete’s health and performance. They support bone health, muscle contraction, blood formation, and energy production.

Calcium and vitamin D are essential for strong bones, iron carries oxygen to muscles, and antioxidants like vitamins C and E protect against oxidative stress. A diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will ensure a young footballer gets a broad spectrum of these vital nutrients.

Importance of Each Micronutrient

Each micronutrient has a unique role in the athlete’s body. For example, magnesium plays a critical role in muscle function and energy production, while zinc is crucial for growth, healing, and a healthy immune system.

Ensuring a diet that covers a wide range of micronutrients can significantly affect a young athlete’s performance, growth, and overall health. Tailoring nutritional needs to include micronutrient-rich foods can provide the competitive edge needed for success on the football field.

Pre-Game Nutrition

The meals and snacks a young footballer consumes before a game can have a significant impact on their performance on the pitch. Proper pre-game nutrition helps ensure that players have the energy and focus needed to compete at their best from the first whistle to the last.

Pre game nutritional diet for kids to eat in football

Timing of Meals and Snacks

Meal Timing

Eating the right foods at the right time before a game is crucial. A substantial meal should be consumed 2-4 hours before kickoff, allowing enough time for digestion and absorption of nutrients without causing discomfort during the game.

This meal should be high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat to maximize energy stores and minimize any risk of stomach issues.

Snack Timing

A light snack, rich in carbohydrates, can be eaten 30 minutes to an hour before the game to top off energy levels. Options like a piece of fruit, a granola bar, or a small smoothie can provide a quick energy boost without weighing down an athlete.

This strategy ensures that players start the game with optimal energy, supporting quick decisions and sustained effort throughout the match.

Recommended Pre-Game Meals and Snacks


Ideal pre-game meals combine complex carbohydrates with lean protein to fuel the body and support muscle function.

A plate of whole-grain pasta with a tomato-based sauce and grilled chicken, or a quinoa salad with mixed vegetables and fish, are examples of balanced meals that provide both immediate and sustained energy.


Choosing the right snack before a game can provide a final boost of energy without causing any digestive discomfort. Easy-to-digest carbohydrates are the best option.

A banana, a rice cake with honey, or a small serving of dried fruit can offer a quick source of energy. These snacks are particularly useful for matches scheduled early in the morning or when there’s limited time for a full meal beforehand.

Hydration Strategies

Staying well-hydrated is as important as the food consumed before a game. Dehydration can significantly impair performance, affecting concentration, coordination, and stamina.

Young athletes should start hydrating at least several hours before the game, aiming to drink small, frequent sips of water leading up to kickoff. Avoiding beverages with high sugar content or caffeine is advisable, as these can lead to spikes and crashes in energy levels.

During-Game Nutrition

The intensity of a football match demands that young athletes maintain optimal energy and hydration levels to perform their best throughout the game. During-game nutrition focuses on sustaining performance, preventing dehydration, and maintaining concentration levels from start to finish.

Importance of Staying Fueled and Hydrated

Maintaining Energy Levels

Continuous energy expenditure during a match through sprinting, jumping, and tackling depletes glycogen stores in the muscles.

Consuming small, easily digestible snacks or drinks that contain carbohydrates during halftime or brief stoppages can help recharge these energy stores, maintaining the intensity of play throughout the game.


Staying hydrated is critical to prevent the decline in performance associated with dehydration. Loss of fluids through sweat, especially in hot and humid conditions, can quickly lead to dehydration, affecting an athlete’s ability to run, think clearly, and recover from intense activity.

Regularly consuming fluids during the game helps maintain hydration levels, supporting overall performance and safety.

Suggestions for Easily Digestible Snacks and Drinks


Choosing the right type of snack during the game is crucial. Snacks should be high in carbohydrates and easy to digest to quickly provide energy without causing gastrointestinal discomfort.

Examples include small pieces of fruit like apple slices or oranges, energy gels designed for athletes, and small granola bars. These can be quickly consumed during brief pauses in the game, such as halftime.


In addition to water, sports drinks can be beneficial during the game, as they provide not only hydration but also electrolytes lost through sweat and a quick source of energy from carbohydrates.

These drinks are formulated to be easily absorbed and can help maintain electrolyte balance, which is crucial for muscle function and fluid balance.

Hydration Strategies

A proactive approach to hydration is essential, especially in warmer climates or during intense periods of play. Players should aim to take small sips of water or sports drinks at every opportunity, such as during stoppages in play, to avoid large gulps that may lead to discomfort.

Coaches and support staff can play a key role in reminding players to hydrate, especially younger athletes who may not always recognize the early signs of dehydration.

Nutritional Blueprint for Athletic Success

In the realm of athletic development, nutrition is as critical as the training regimen. The accompanying bar chart outlines the optimal dietary composition for a young athlete, offering a visual guide to balancing macronutrients.

nutritional diet composition for young players
National Library Of Medicine

Carbohydrates, the primary fuel for high-intensity activities, should constitute 45% to 65% of the diet. Proteins, essential for muscle repair and growth, are recommended to be 10% to 30%. Fats, vital for long-term energy and health, should make up 25% to 35% of the dietary intake.

This chart serves as a fundamental nutrition plan, aiming to ensure that young athletes have the energy reserves and building blocks needed for peak performance and recovery.

Post-Game Recovery

After the final whistle blows, the focus for young footballers shifts from performance to recovery. The post-game period is a critical time when the right nutrition can significantly enhance recovery processes, refueling the body, supporting muscle repair, and replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes.

Refueling with Carbohydrates and Protein

Carbohydrates for Energy Replenishment

Immediately after intense physical activity, the body’s glycogen stores are depleted and need to be replenished. Consuming carbohydrates soon after the game helps restore these energy stores.

Meals and snacks should include high-quality carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to ensure effective refueling.

Protein for Muscle Repair

Protein plays a crucial role in repairing and rebuilding muscle fibers damaged during the game. Including a good source of protein in the post-game meal aids in the recovery process, helping to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time.

Lean meats, dairy products, eggs, and plant-based proteins like beans and lentils are excellent options.

Hydration and Electrolyte Replenishment

Loss of fluids and electrolytes through sweat during a game can lead to dehydration if not adequately replaced. Post-game, it’s important to continue drinking water and, if necessary, electrolyte solutions to restore hydration balance.

Importance of Rest and Recovery

Active Recovery

While nutrition plays a key role in recovery, the importance of physical rest should not be overlooked. Light, active recovery exercises such as walking, stretching, or yoga can help increase blood flow to muscles and aid in the recovery process without overexerting the body.


Adequate sleep is another critical component of recovery, allowing the body and mind to repair and grow stronger. Young athletes should aim for at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night to support optimal recovery and overall health.

Special Considerations

While the core principles of sports nutrition are broadly applicable, young footballers and their caregivers must also navigate specific challenges and considerations.

These include managing dietary restrictions or allergies, understanding the role of supplements, and balancing the demands of nutrition with academic and social commitments.

Addressing Dietary Restrictions or Allergies

Individual Needs

Every young athlete is unique, with specific dietary needs and potential food allergies or intolerances. It’s important to identify and accommodate these individual requirements to ensure that the diet supports optimal health and performance.

For example, athletes with gluten intolerance should have access to gluten-free carbohydrate sources, ensuring they can still effectively fuel their bodies for performance and recovery.

Inclusive Planning

Inclusive meal planning that considers these restrictions is essential. This might involve working with a nutritionist to identify alternative foods and supplements that meet the athlete’s nutritional needs without triggering adverse reactions.

The goal is to provide a balanced diet that supports the athlete’s training and competition schedule while ensuring their overall well-being.

Supplements: What’s Safe and Beneficial for Young Athletes

Navigating the Supplement Landscape

The supplement industry offers a plethora of products, each promising to enhance performance, recovery, or health. However, it’s critical to approach supplements with caution, particularly for young athletes.

The focus should be on meeting nutritional needs through diet first and foremost. When considering supplements, it’s essential to seek advice from healthcare professionals to avoid those that are unnecessary, ineffective, or potentially harmful.

Approved Supplements

For some young athletes, specific supplements like vitamin D or iron might be recommended to address deficiencies that cannot be corrected through diet alone. In these cases, choosing high-quality, third-party tested supplements is crucial to ensure safety and efficacy.

Balancing Nutrition with Academic and Social Demands

Time Management

Young athletes often face the challenge of balancing training and competition schedules with schoolwork and social activities. Effective time management strategies can help ensure that nutritional needs are met amidst these demands.

Preparing meals and snacks in advance, for example, can ensure that athletes have the right foods available when they need them.

Integrating Nutrition into Lifestyle

It’s also important to integrate nutritional strategies into the athlete’s lifestyle in a way that supports their social and academic development. This might mean finding ways to incorporate healthy eating into family and social events or teaching young athletes how to make smart food choices when dining out with friends.

Sample Meal Plans

Creating a structured meal plan is pivotal for young footballers aiming to optimize their nutrition for improved performance and recovery. A well-designed meal plan fuels the demanding physical activity associated with football.

sample meal plans for youth footballers

Breakfast Ideas

Energizing Start

  • Oatmeal with fresh berries, chia seeds, and a spoonful of almond butter. Provides a good mix of complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and micronutrients.
  • Whole grain toast with avocado and poached eggs. Offers a balance of carbohydrates, healthy fats, and high-quality protein, along with essential vitamins and minerals.

Lunch Ideas

Midday Fuel

  • Quinoa salad with mixed vegetables, chickpeas, and feta cheese, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. This meal packs a punch of plant-based protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
  • Turkey and cheese wrap with whole grain tortilla, mixed greens, and a side of carrot sticks. Provides lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and a serving of vegetables for a balanced nutrient intake.

Dinner Ideas

Recovery Dinner

  • Grilled salmon, sweet potato, and steamed broccoli. Salmon provides high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids, essential for recovery and brain health, while sweet potato offers carbohydrates for replenishing energy stores.
  • Chicken stir-fry with brown rice and a variety of vegetables. A great source of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and a wide range of nutritional vitamins and minerals from the vegetables.

Snack Ideas

Energy-Boosting Snacks

  • Greek yogurt with honey and granola. A great source of protein, calcium, and probiotics, with the added energy from honey and granola.
  • Homemade energy bars made from oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Offer a convenient, nutrient-dense snack option packed with fiber, healthy fats, and natural sugars for a quick energy boost.

Emphasis on Variety and Balance

The key to a successful meal plan for young footballers lies in its variety and balance. Incorporating a wide range of foods ensures that athletes receive all the necessary macro- and micronutrients their bodies need to perform, recover, and grow.

Each meal and snack should aim to combine complex carbohydrates for energy, lean proteins for muscle repair, and healthy fats for long-term fueling, along with a variety of fruits and vegetables to provide essential vitamins and nutritional needs.


In conclusion, proper nutrition is a fundamental cornerstone for young footballers aiming to reach the pinnacle of their performance and achieve long-term success in the sport.

By prioritizing a balanced diet rich in variety and essential nutrients, young athletes can enhance their performance on the field, expedite recovery processes, and support their overall growth and development.

Prioritizing nutrition today paves the way for tomorrow’s champions, fueling their journey towards achieving their athletic and personal goals.


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