How to Eat to Compete – General Nutrition Guidelines for Youth Athletes

Copyright (c) 2008 Jason Zaretzky

Whether you are training for a competitive sport or if you’re just playing a pick up game with your friends, an athlete’s physical development and performance depends on proper nutrition and eating for competition. In order for your body to operate or expend the energy it needs to meet the demands of your sport, competition, or activity you have to fuel the tank first. In other words you have to ‘eat to compete’.

When I say ‘eat to compete’ I mean you have to consume the proper type and amount of fuel, at the right time in order for you body to perform at an optimal level. By following that guideline alone can benefit any athlete at any level tremendously.

What are the Proper types of foods to consume?

The most appropriate supportive eating plan for an athlete should:

– Be high in nutrient-dense carbohydrates
– Contain a moderate amount of protein
– Include healthy fats
– Provide enough calories to support the demands of training and sports/activities

Great! Now what are nutrient-dense carbohydrates, good protein choices, and a healthy fat? To keep it simple a nutrient-dense carbohydrate is simply vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and anything that is unprocessed (if it comes in a box – it is most likely processed). In other words you want to minimize cakes, cookies, pastas, and anything made from white flour. **Note I said minimize these choices**

Occasional sweets and foods high in fat and sugar are ok once in a while. However, try not to replace a sugary sweet in place of a nutrient-dense food, and try not to use these ‘treats’ as rewards to often. This will only develop an emotion response and engrain ‘sweets ‘n’ treats’ with the accomplishment and reward. Instead try to set reasonable guidelines that encourage more of a balanced approach. What I have clients do is abide by the 90%/10% rule. Basically 90% of the time you stay within your supportive nutrition boundaries, and 10% of the time you can have some leniency.

Ok, now what the heck is a good protein choice? First off, let me rephrase ‘good’ protein choice. There are no good choices and bad choices when it comes to protein and all food for that matter. There are better choices than others, but moderation is key (remember the 90%/10% rule).

Alright, let’s get back on track. Proteins. A protein is basically anything that has or has had eyes. This includes lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish, as well eggs, wild game, red meat and dairy foods.

Fats, Fat, Fat… The evil word that everybody wants to avoid. If you eat fat, you will be fat right? Wrong! In fact your body needs fat to survive and to perform at optimal levels too. The key here is to eat fats that are healthy for you. Avoid/minimize saturated fats or anything that is fried or made with hydrogenated oils. Instead opt for fats that are unprocessed and natural. Flax seed oils and fish oils tend to be your better choices here.

What are the Proper amounts of foods to consume, and when should I eat them?

Now that we know what to eat, we need establish how much to consume, and at what times.

Well as stated earlier you need to consume enough calories to support the demands of you sport, training, or daily activities. I know what you’re thinking… “now I have to figure out how many calories I need, then measure and count calories all day, just so I can play better.”

Maybe… if that’s something you could tolerate and do on a daily basis. However, I know It’s not practical. So here are some basic guidelines in regards to meal quantity meal timing.

Guidelines for eating for increase performance:

– Eat breakfast every morning and then every two to four hours after.
– At every meal consume nutrient – dense carbohydrate, a protein, and a fat.
– Include a fruit or vegetable at every meal.
– The portion size of each of your food categories should be equal in size (an average size of a portion is the size of a cupped hand or a deck of cards)
– Be sure to eat a protein at every meal
– Drink ½ your bodyweight in ounces of water a day minimum (even more on high intensity/activity days)
– Abide by the 90%/10% rule

What about supplements?

Supplements are and should be just what they are called – ‘supplemental’. First and foremost a sound nutrition program has to be established before we can talk about what supplements are best. So for now let’s focus on laying the foundation for a well rounded supportive nutrition plan.

In the mean time a quality multi-vitamin made from real ‘nutrient-dense’ foods has been proven to increase performance, increase health, and aid in getting the appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals an athlete (or anyone for that matter) needs. I addition a fish oil supplement is beneficial for heart health and improved performance as well.

To learn about the highest quality supplements that are 100% guaranteed and NCAA compliant, visit


Hopefully this article has provided you with some insightful information regarding how to eat for optimal athletic performance, increased energy, and improved overall health. All you have to do is follow these basic guidelines, and you’ll begin to see the benefits. You’ll benefit by; having increased energy for a longer duration so you can outlast your competition, becoming leaner and harder, bigger, faster, and stronger, as well as be less susceptible to injury.

In closing I recommend that you seek advice from a nutrition specialist and/or a sport performance specialist to better understand ways to implement an optimal nutrition plan that will aid in ensuring optimal performance!

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