20 Best Snacks for Youth Athletes

Just like adults, youth athletes need to nourish and fuel their bodies. Here are 20 best snacks for youth athletes.
youth athletes

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I don’t remember when I didn’t have youth athletes. Whether it was busy playing, going to the park, these little divas have always been on the move.  Maybe this post should just be a snack for kids, but I have some tips on mostly what to snack on pre- and post-activity.  I am the Mama of three little divas that aren’t so little anymore for those who don’t know. The older they get, the more places I have to drive them, and when I am trying to think of snacks not only for my kids but also for myself, I have a small criterion.

Snacks before activity

  • Snacks should not make me mindless choices to keep you occupied.
  • Pre Workout Snacks should be intentional small meals to fuel your body for the demands of the activity.
  • You should also account for proper hydration and fluid pre and post-meal consumption and their effect on their performance.
  • Everything we put in our bodies has the purpose of nourishing our bodies. You should be making intentional decisions.

What kind of snack should youth athletes have?

Including more than one light snack daily with an active kid is recommended.  These “light snacks” should provide a significant amount of carbohydrates, which is known to be one of the primary fuel sources for highly active cells and helps avoid gastrointestinal  (GI) issues that occur with substantial meals to meet calorie needs. (Kerksic, C, Harvey T, Stout J, et al. 2015)

Your snack should also contain a protein source.  Studies reveal an improvement in both strength and body composition with frequent protein intake throughout the day, not enough protein intake doses.4  (Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, et al. 2014)

best snacks for youth athletes

Things to eat pre and post-workout:

The snacks you choose pre, and post-workout need to help optimize glycogen stores and maintain glucose levels, so the body is ready to adapt to training needs.  The closer you get to your training session, the meal should be smaller and less protein, fat, and fiber but not too small that you get hungry during your workout.

You also don’t want a too large snack because it can give you gastrointestinal issues (GI) during your training.  Snacks should also be high in carbohydrates. You want foods that are high-glycemic because they are easier to digest and enters the bloodstream faster.7

Pre- Activity

30-60 minutes Prior:


Eating too heavy can put your child’s digestive system on overload. It’s best to leave the massive meal hours before activity or afterward.

Drinks that are Ideal for Pre Activity

Some better choices in Pre and post-activity drinks are drinks that are high in dietary nitrates. For example, beet and cherry (for the flavor) juice before a workout is a better alternative to drinks on the market. Beet juice is a high source of nitrates, polyphenols (a great source of great source antioxidants). Cherry juice is also a common pre-workout for the positive performance benefits it has during exercise activity.  (Jones AM, Vanhatalo A, Bailey SJ.2013) 

youth athletes

Can you snack during exercise?

Most children don’t need to snack for moderate-intensity and last up to 90 minutes. Endurance-type or high-intensity sports lasting longer than 60 to 90 minutes, you need to try to get in at least 30-60g of protein within the hour to help extend endurance performance. Still, again that is dependent on your child’s activity.  It is also acceptable to consume carbohydrates during exercises for children who are not well-nourished or didn’t have a pre-workout snack.  That is also something that you should speak to your pediatrician. 

Ideas of during-exercise snacks, as tolerated:

  1. Branch Chain Amino Acids 
  2. Applesauce Pouches
  3. Bananas
  4. Crackers (Try: Gluten-Free Cracker Recipe

best snacks for youth athletes

What do I feed my youth athletes after a “workout”?

After a workout, I want to get protein and carbohydrates in at least 30-45 minutes after the girls finish their activity. It is essential to help them recover, and I think what they eat is critical. It’s also larger than their pre-workout snack because they just burned many calories and are usually aggressive and hungry. 

Ideas of post-exercise snacks:

The Worst Snacks for Youth Athletes

I think that it can be straightforward to fuel your youth athletes. Ultimately, when considering choosing snacks for your active child, not choose only processed sports foods as snacks. When only highly processed sports foods replace whole foods at snack time, an excellent opportunity to consume fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals is missed. Eat real food and limit the junk.

best snacks for youth athletes

My biggest tip would be when thinking of nutrition, be intentional, not mindless. Eat well and eat often and try to make quality, deliberate nutrition choices.

What are some of the best snacks for youth athletes that you would add?

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  1. Burke L. Practical Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics; 2007. Print
  2. Kerksic, C, Harvey T, Stout J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. J Intl Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;17. Accessed January 5, 2015.
  3. Carlson A, Nippe S, Heydenreich J, Meyer F. Carbohydrate intake and food sources of junior triathletes during a moderate and an intensive training period. Int J of Sports Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012;22:438-443. Print
  4. Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, et al. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2014;144::876-880. Print.
  5. Phillips S, Bandini LG, Naumova EN, et al. Energy-dense snack food intake in adolescence: longitudinal relationship to weight and fatness obesity research. Obesity Res. 2004;12:461-472. Print.
  6. 6.Andrea Q. Vintro, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, owner of Nutrition Logic, LLD in Portland, OR.
  7. Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SHS, Jeukendrup AE. “Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci, 2011;29 (suppl1): S17-S27. Print.
  8. Van Loon LJC. Role of dietary protein in post-exercise muscle reconditioning. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2013;75:73-83. Print.
  9. Spiegel K, Tasali E, Leproult R, van Cauter E. Effects of poor and short sleep on glucose metabolism and obesity risk. Nature Rev Endocrinol. 2009;5:253-261, Print



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