Young Athletes Nutrition

By 4th September 2017No Comments

Training Cave

The aim of this document is to help inform parents of what is needed in a young athletes food intake.

As the Training Cave is a boxing club it is essential that the athletes understand what they are putting in their bodies. They need to know how they can best fuel for and also recover from training. Boxers are known for using extreme methods to ‘cut weight’ such as wearing sauna suits to lose water weight and also nearly starving themselves to meet lower weight classes.

If a boxer cannot meet an agreed weight category for competition then they will not be allowed to box. This will not be a decision made by officials but it will be a decision made by the coach, as methods such as wearing sauna suits to drop a few pounds will never be used by this gym.

This is where parents and also the young athletes come into the equation. A coach cannot follow an athlete around to make sure they are fuelling themselves correctly so it is very important that parents also encourage the boxers to eat the right way.

Like adults, children need to eat a balanced diet to maintain good health and achieve peak performance.

We also need to consider the fact that children tend to burn more energy than adults during similar activities due to a lack of co-ordination, this is called ‘wasteful energy’. So our aim isn’t to really cut down on foods but to ensure the boxers are eating in a way that will help them have more energy, recover and grow.

At the Training Cave, the long term aim isn’t to have a gym full of undernourished fighters. The aim is for them to be the strongest, the fastest, the fittest, the most powerful and the most skilful boxers that they can possibly be. Physical training is provided by the coach in the gym, but without correct nutrition away from the gym these aims can’t be completely possible.

Portion sizes

We do need to keep an eye on food portion sizes that are being consumed by young athletes. An overweight child needs to lessen the portion sizes of the meals they eat.

A good indicator for assessing portion sizes that a child eats is to go by appetite. If they are not aiming to lose weight and they are still hungry after meals then they need to eat a little more. If they are aiming to lose weight and are hungry sometimes, then this is the small discomfort they will have to deal with until they bring the weight down. Welcome to a boxers life!

Portion sizes as a rough guidance:
• Protein – one piece (around the size of our palm)
• Carbohydrates – no bigger then the size of our fist
• Fruit – one piece is enough per serving as a snack
• Vegetables – more than the carbohydrate and protein portions


Children are constantly growing and developing, they need more protein relative to their weight than adults do.

Active children need around 1.1g of protein per kg in bodyweight daily. If a boxer weighs 40kg they will need 44g worth of protein within their daily diet.

Here are a few examples of the amount of protein in certain food portions (all are rough estimates as a guideline) :
• Egg – 6g
• Steak – 23g per 3oz
• Beef – 18g per 3oz
• Chicken breast – 20g per 3oz
• Turkey – 24g per 3oz
• Tuna – 20g per 3oz
• Salmon – 20g per 3oz

A young athlete should aim to have at least 2-4 portions of protein rich food daily (lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, quorn)

Also a balanced amount of grains which all contain smaller amounts of protein (bread, pasta, cereal) as well as dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, cheese).
We also need to realise that vegetables also contain protein!

Protein supplements

Protein supplements are unnecessary for a young athlete as they can get enough protein through a balanced diet. It is important that children learn to plan a balanced diet using ordinary foods and how to get the right amount of protein from food combinations .


Protein, fat and carbohydrates all provide energy for the body. Proteins don’t make much of a contribution to fuelling the body unless we are training for very prolonged or very intense bouts of exercise.

The production of energy during most forms of exercise comes mainly from carbohydrates and fats.

Carbohydrates are mainly used for short term bouts of exercise which is why they are essential for a boxer.

A young boxer needs to be receiving at least 50% of their energy from carbohydrates:
• 4-6 portions per day from grains (pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, cereal)
• 2-4 portions per day from fruit

Before training/competition carbohydrates

Most energy needed for exercise is provided by whatever the athlete has eaten several hours or even days before.

Carbohydrates in foods are converted into glycogen (energy) and is then stored in a persons muscles and liver. If they have high levels of glycogen in their muscles then they will be ready to fuel activity. If they have not eaten enough carbohydrates, they will have low stocks of glycogen and this will put them at risk of early fatigue during exercise.

Portion control is still key, do not forget this. Too much supply of carbohydrates, like anything else will lead to weight gain if it cannot be used.

Food eaten before training needs to stop children feeling tired during exercise and it needs to be easily digested.

Don’t let them eat sugary foods such as sweats and drinks before training or competition as this may cause a surge of blood glucose and insulin followed by a rapid fall resulting in early fatigue and reduced performance.

Pre exercise snack examples:
• Fruit
• Small sandwich with a protein source.
• Cereal bar
• Dried fruit
• Yoghurt
• Rice cakes

With pre exercise foods it does take time to find out what works for each individual so a little trial and error is needed!

Please don’t offer anything new to a young athlete before competition as it may not agree with them.

If the young athlete is going to be having more than 2 hours between training and eating then a normal balanced meal will be suitable (carbohydrates, a source of protein and with vegetables).

After exercise carbohydrates

After exercise it needs to be our priority to replenish fluid lost during training therefore young athletes need to drink straight away.

They also need to replace energy that they have used during activity. This is an important meal as it can determine how quickly an athlete will recover before the next training session.

If they are not eating a meal for more than one hour after exercise then they should have a snack to prevent hunger and promote recovery.

Suitable recovery snack examples:
• Fruit
• Dried fruit
• Nuts
• Raisins
• Fruit yoghurt
• Smoothie
• Roll/ bagel with jam

Recovery meal examples:
• Jacket potato with beans/tuna/cheese and vegetables
• Pasta/ rice with meat/poultry/fish and vegetables
• Beans/eggs/bacon on toast

Dietary fat

Fats are needed in a young athletes diet. Reducing dietary fat may reduce performance.

Not all fats are healthy though, the ones that we will focus on more for young people are the fats we get from real food.

Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to lead to improvements in strength and endurance by enhancing aerobic metabolism.

Benefits of omega 3:
• Minimise post exercise soreness
• Improve delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells
• Enhanced aerobic metabolism
• Increased energy levels and stamina
• Increased exercise duration and intensity
• Anti inflammatory, prevents joint, tendon and ligament strains.

Sources of omega 3:
• Salmon
• Mackerel
• Sardines
• Trout
• Tuna


These fats need to be avoided because not only do they provide no nutritional benefit but they will also offer extra (unnecessary) calories into a young athletes diet.

These fats are processed and are created by humans, they are not natural!:
• Cakes
• Biscuits
• Margarine
• Low fat spread
• Pastry
• Fast food
• Crisps
• Chocolate


Young athletes are more susceptible to dehydration and overheating than adults for the following reasons:
• They sweat less than adults (sweat helps to keep the body stable)
• They cannot cope with very hot conditions as well as adults
• They get hotter during exercise
• They fail to recognise or respond to feelings of thirst.

The best way for you to know if you are dehydrated is a simple ‘pee test’, if you are hydrated then your urine will be clear. If urine is a dark yellow, this is a sign of dehydration. This is something we can easily teach to young athletes so they know how to monitor hydration.

It is recommended that an active young person should be drinking at least 1-1.5 litres of water per day.


As this document is aimed at young boxers I want to highlight that restricting fluids to lose weight is the wrong thing to do!

Dehydration will lead to:
• Exercise feeling much harder
• Heart rate increasing more than usual
• May develop cramps, headaches and nausea
• Reduced concentration
• Ability to perform sports skills drop
• Fatigue sooner and lose stamina

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals do not in themselves provide energy, they are needed for good health as well as for peak physical performance.

Vitamins are needed for growth, health and physical well being. Some are needed for the systems involved in energy production and exercise performance. Others are involved in the functioning of the immune system, the hormonal system and the nervous system.

Minerals have many roles in the body. Some form part of the structure of bones and teeth. Others are involved in controlling the fluid balance in tissues, muscle contraction, nerve function and formation of red blood cells.

Foods that provide a lot of vitamins and minerals examples:
– Vegetables
– Fruits
– Seeds
– Milk and dairy products
– Meat, fish and vegetarian alternatives.

Putting it all together

Below, I will list some important points to follow for a young athletes nutrition:

• Hydration is number one priority, encourage them to drink lots of water.
• 3 main meals per day (breakfast, dinner and tea) all of these need to provide sources of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.
• When a young athlete is needing to drop weight, portion control is very important. We still want them eating the right foods, but just not too much!
• Stay away from the bad fatty (and sugary) foods! If a boxer wants to be in peak condition then some sacrifices need to be made in life, regardless of age. (after competition they can enjoy some bad foods)
• Between main meals, healthy snacks are fine as long as they are eating to maintain weight and fuel for exercise.
• Please, please, please try your best to encourage them to eat vegetables. I know this can be hard with children. I personally hated them when I was younger but I wish I knew what I know now.

Child friendly way of explaining what each food source does

• Makes us strong
• Makes us more muscular
• Helps us to recover from training
• Helps us to grow

• Gives us the energy to train
• Replaces our energy after training

Vitamins and minerals
• Magic foods
• Without these our bodies will not be the best that they can be
• These are the foods that are needed to make big and strong athletes
• Protein and carbohydrates will not work as well if we do not eat our fruit and veg!

• The best fluid that anyone can drink. The more water they take in, the better athlete they will be.

I know there is a lot of information to take in but I have tried to make it as simple as possible. I feel it is important to explain what certain food types do for the human body so everyone can better understand why they need to eat the foods they eat.

It would be hard to sit young boxers down and try to explain all this. Maybe one day I will do, but for now I think it is essential that parents are on the same wavelength as a coach and understand they have a big part to play in the development of a young athlete.

‘Your body is a well designed machine. And just like any other machine, it needs fuel to run. When it doesn’t get any, it grinds to a halt.’