A Nutritional Guide For High School Athletes

Basic Sports nutrition for the young athlete is simple; consume enough calories for the daily demands of life and training. A lack of calories results in a lack of performance. Consuming enough calories allows the athlete’s body to perform at its best.

(adding feed these kids club picture here)

San Diego Sports Nutrition 101

San Diego Sports nutrition is simple. EAT MORE FOOD! Almost all our young athletes wish to gain weight. There are three main ways to gain weight. 1. Train hard. 2. Get quality sleep. 3. EAT! Our athletes have no problem training hard when they are here. They are constantly pushed to perform better both inside and outside of the gym. Although busy schedules (excessive time on our phones and netflix) can cause unusual sleep patterns, sleep is usually not a consistent problem. When the first two factors are in check, we are left with not consuming enough calories. Unfortunately, eating is a commonly misunderstood factor!

Supply and Demand

Athletes, especially athletes in southern California, are constantly moving. In order to meet the demand for energy , they must consume enough calories. There are different ways to meet caloric requirements, but proper ratios of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins will allow the athlete to perform to the best of their ability and ensure recovery. Fats contain 9 kcal/gram, while proteins and carbohydrates contain 4 kcal/gram. Under consume any of these three macronutrients and you decrease your ability to perform. Carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source during high-intensity training and competition, making it the most important macronutrient regarding performance. Any athlete wishing to put on lean muscle mass needs adequate protein to grow and repair the muscular system, which is comprised mainly of amino acids and H2O. The growing athlete wishing to put on lean muscle mass may need up to 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 175 pount athlete is going to need roughly 175 grams of protein per day. It is no-brainer that an athlete should consume adequate fat in their diet not just for caloric content but for overall body health and function, yet some people are led to believe fat is “bad”for you. Fat plays a crucial role regulating proper hormone levels and also in the development of the muscular system. By having a diet that includes all three macronutrients, the athlete will meet their caloric needs and be best fueled for success.

There often seems to be a disconnect with an athlete knowing what to eat and getting enough of it in. For this reason, the total amount of calories a young athlete may think they are getting in one day is often way overestimated. Countless times when we ask an athlete at the gym if they ate a lot today we hear the response “YES!”. Diving a bit deeper into their diet from earlier that day and we see they have consumed less than 1,000 calories! This has happened on multiple occasions. Would you put 10$ of gas in your car before driving cross country? No? Then why skip meals, show up to train, and get frustrated when you don’t perform at your highest level?

Strategies For Feeding the Machine: Don’t Skip Meals!


In order to get in enough calories, it is extremely important to never skip a meal. This can make it easier for an athlete to consume less food more frequently, which ultimately leads to more calories consumed. Often times when an athlete skips breakfast, they never end up making up the lost calories which can be anywhere from 600-1,000 crucial calories! An athlete who is struggling to get in enough calories either due to activity level or unwillingness to eat can turn to different methods to help.

Consuming calories in the liquid form seems to be easiest for these athletes. Whether it is gatorade, milk, juices, healthy oils or making a shake (typically oatmeal, peanut butter, whey protein, and various fruits), the added calories and convenience factor will ensure more calories are added to their daily diet. This summer we started implementing a mandatory peanut butter and protein shake for every single athlete who wanted to pack on some pounds. Not only did this provide an extra 800 calories immediately after a workout, but provided some serious laughs as kids tried to get them down. All joking aside, they worked, and are part of the reason kids improved so much this summer.

Food Choices

Is there a certain type of food the athlete should be eating? Yes and No. It's very challenging to get adequate calories in by eating entirely “clean” food such as fruits and vegetables.  For example,  if you were to eat a piece of fruit for breakfast you’re taking in about 90-100 calories. Ninety Calories is not breakfast for an athlete. On the contrary, 3 whole eggs, a whole wheat bagel, and fruit will give you roughly 610 kcal. Much more useful for an athlete.  Fruits and vegetable should be added to a meal and not viewed as a meal themselves.

The key to everything is balance. Consume entirely high caloric content food lacking nutrients density (i.e. candy bars or soda) and you’ll be feeling fatigued, unmotivated, and your performance will suffer. Our bodily functions take place on a cellular level, driven by phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Although foods such as candy bars and sports drinks may be high in calories, the lack of micronutrients makes it important to have balance in your diet. Athletes may need anywhere from 3,000-5,000 or more calories a day depending on activity level and age. It is a balance between nutrient rich and calorically rich food that will allow athletes to recover fastest and perform at highest levels. It’s all efficiency of eating!  Think caloric and nutrient density.

Meal Timing

Is there an optimal time to eat? Again, this depends on many factors such as activity level, type of athlete, and goal of the athlete. Calorie content always remains the most important factor. Whether you consume 3,000 calories over the course of three meals or six meals in one day, you consumed 3,000 calories that day. However, it is important to take into account training schedule, competition time, and even athlete preference. When working to gain weight and/or strength the athlete should always eat prior to training. The amount of time prior to training is 100% person dependent. Some athletes can crush a burrito prior to training, squat heavy, and not puke. Another athlete can eat that same burrito 3 hours out, and halfway through the session the burrito will be in the bushes. One thing that is consistent between everyone is training in a fasted state will cause a lack of energy, decreased performance and may enhance weight loss. As mentioned earlier, carbohydrates provide the most fuel for high-intensity training or competition, while fats also provide energy but are not the primary source. For this reason, pre-competition or training meals should contain primarily carbohydrates, branched chained Aminos Acids and fats. Protein should be viewed as a way to  spare skeletal muscle, enhance recovery, and increase rate of muscle growth. Protein becomes an energy source only when the athlete is deprived of carbohydrates or fats. Pre and post-training meals are very important when trying to gain size, strength and improve performance and should always be implemented in the athlete’s daily diet.

Following training, our athletes are given a scoop of whey protein (roughly 25 grams of protein) and a huge spoonful of peanut butter (roughly 25 grams of protein, 45 grams of fat, and 20 grams of carbohydrates). This varies between 600-800 calories post-training to ensure the athlete is fueling themselves and giving their body the nutrients needed to repair, grow, and ultimately PERFORM! From the moment they walk out the door it’s on the athlete to continue to eat and recover. We continually encourage out athletes to continue to put down food and fluids throughout the remainder of the day so they’re ready to perform next time they’re in. Almost every time we encourage an athlete to simply eat more, we see increased numbers in the gym, increased bodyweight, and ultimately improved performance. It comes down to this: When an athlete is working to perform at his or her highest level, food must be viewed as a way to increase performance….