In the world of sports nutrition, there are a thousand different pieces of advice for what youth athletes should eat after a practice or competition.
However, what’s prevalent among most of these opinions is that youth athletes (or those of any age) need to quickly eat carbohydrates in order replace the glycogen (aka “muscle fuel”) lost while participating in their sport.
The general recommendation is to eat 0.65 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight within 30 minutes after exercise. This should be followed by an additional carbohydrate-laden meal two hours later.
But along with carbs (and fluids), protein is also an important part of recovery, particularly if your child participates in high-intensity and resistance training activities that damage muscle tissue. Protein in post-workout meals aids with muscle recovery and also promotes new muscle growth.
Given these guidelines, some good examples of snacks for post-competition that contain both protein and carbs are:
- Peanut butter
- Granola bars
- Baked potatoes
- Fruit smoothie
And a good post-workout meal for a youth athlete could look something like:
- Stir-fry with lean steak, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, and brown rice
- Rice bowl with beans, salsa, avocado, and whole grain chips or tortillas
- Whole-wheat pita wrap with lean meat and veggies
When Youth Athletes Should Eat After Competing
Eating a carbohydrate-heavy snack within 30 minutes after training will allow the body to start replenishing glycogen stores (basically refilling energy in the muscles) efficiently. If your youth athlete has two or more training sessions or events within 8 hours of one another, eating shortly after the first competition is essential to having their body feel repaired and rested for the next practice or competition.
Additionally, eating a couple of balanced meals within six hours after training or a competition ensures that the muscles continue with this glycogen repair and recovery. If your athlete doesn’t have a large appetite after their event or practice, try getting them to eat a small snack (or drink a sports drink, if nothing else) first, then a small meal around two and four hours afterwards.
Hydrating After Competition
Athletes of course also need to be sure to hydrate after a workout or game (in addition to also drinking fluids before and during). A general rule of thumb is to drink three cups of fluid (preferably water) for each pound lost during competition or training. Smoothies (made with yogurt and frozen fruit) can be a more flavorful way to both help replace lost fluids, carbohydrates, and calories.
Chocolate milk is also a great recovery drink because of the balanced amount of carbohydrates and protein it contains. It works well as a natural way to boost recovery without the use of supplements, allowing an athlete to properly refuel and repair their bodies for their next workout (and is also a great source of calcium and vitamin D).