Pre-Workout Nutrition for Young Athletes: Best Meals to Eat Before a Workout

For young athletes who manage to squeeze gym time into their everyday routine, pre- and post-workout foods are really important.

Offer your child the right foods in the right amount and at the right time to improve their performance and help them achieve their goals.

If you understand how exactly different nutrients work in our body and how long does it take them to digest, you can construct perfect pre-workout meals for your athlete that provide high energy level during workouts, protect muscles and improve metabolism.

Different nutrients take different time to digest, so the first step to making a perfect pre-workout meal is to determine meal timing.

Carbohydrates are digested most quickly, within 2-3 hours, protein takes 3-4 hours to digest and fats take up to 6 hours for digestion.

A good rule is to eat complex carbs with proteins prior to exercise, but, generally, which foods to eat depends on the time when your child’s workout starts. For example, if your child has more than 2 hours before the gym, you can offer him lean meat or chicken with rice and veggies. If a workout starts within 2 hours, opt for light-protein foods, and your child has less than an hour prior to a workout the best solution is to give up meat and cereal in favor of fruits and easily digestible carbohydrates. Here are some examples of what your child can eat before the gym:

If a Workout Starts in 2–3 Hours or More

Concentrate on complex carbohydrates to make your child fed for a long time, add proteins to ensure the lasting supply of energy and vegetables for vitamin support. Examples of good pre-workout meals:

  • Rice with chicken and broccoli
  • Hard-wheat pasta with beef or cheese and carrots
  • Quinoa with lamb and green beans

If a Workout Starts Within 2 Hours

  • Avocado Toast with Tomatoes and Feta Cheese - Put mashed avocado on a slice of whole-wheat bread, spread some lemon pepper, top with sliced tomatoes, feta cheese and green onions.
  • High-Protein Oatmeal  - Whisk one egg into the oats mixture, add milk or almond milk, microwave according to the cooking instruction, add 1 sliced banana and 2 tbsp. of sliced almonds.
  • Peanut Butter and Banana Toast - Spread peanut butter on a slice of whole-wheat toast, top with banana slices and a sprinkle of chia seeds.

If a Workout Starts in 1 Hour or Less

Choose easily digestible foods that give energy and mood for training. To meet these requirements kids’ pre-workout snack should contain carbohydrates.

  • Yogurt Parfait  - Just mix together yogurt, granola or corn flakes and berries - it’s a wonderful grab-and-go pre-workout snack!
  • Berry Smoothie  - Try this blend - blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, bananas and yogurt - Colorful, sweet and bursting with antioxidants. For more smoothie recipes check this article - 10 Best Smoothies for Young Athletes.
  • Fruit salad  - Mix some tangerines, mango and bananas with ½ cup of Greek yogurt and top with sliced almonds.

For best results, you can try out different timings and compositions of your child’s pre-workout meal, to determine what foods better influence the performance. Keep in mind that you don't need to eat many pre-workout meals at different times. Just choose one of these, in accordance with the amount of time left before training. For more information on young athletes' nutrition check our Meal Plan for Young Athletes. 

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