8 Healthy Food Swaps For Youth Athletes | Youth Sport Nutrition
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8 Healthy Food Swaps For Youth Athletes

Article written by Annie Skidmore- BSc Sport & Exercise Science Student


It can often be hard to balance healthy food choices with convenience and ease in the youth athlete. Mealtimes can be rushed especially around training and education commitments, meaning youth athletes or parents may not be prepared to spend their time cooking and buying lots of ingredients. So, below is a list of 8 simple ways you can swap an unhealthy option to a much healthier food alternative.  


Youth athletes need to consume enough energy during high periods of training to maintain body weight/composition [1] and health whilst maximising training effects. Low energy intake can contribute to a loss in muscle mass and bone density, increased risk of injury, fatigue, and the onset of RED-S, which can be hugely detrimental to teen athletes. A balanced diet fuelling the body with adequate carbohydrateproteinfat, and energy intake is essential to prevent any micronutrient deficiencies in athletes. Regular fluid intake is also essential around training to prevent dehydration and a loss in performance [2].



  1. SWAP YOUR SUGARY DRINKS FOR DIET VERSIONS: By having diet and low sugar drinks it will help to greatly reduce your sugar intake and keep control of your blood sugar levels, whilst you still get to enjoy your favourite drinks.
  2. REPLACE PROCESSED FOOD WITH FRESH INGREDIENTS: Reducing consumption of processed food and using fresh ingredients will reduce the number of artificial sweeteners and preservatives to help contribute to a healthy diet.
  3. MAKE YOUR OWN MEALS/SAUCES RATHER THAN SHOP BOUGHT: This is a simple change that will also save you money! For example, simply adding fresh herbs and seasonings to chopped tomatoes provides you will a simple fresh pasta sauce and it will taste better too. Also, batch cooking a meal such as a chilli or even soups will provide you with a nutritious meal option, which can even be frozen and eaten when you are rushed for time.  If you're looking for some recipe inspiration then check out the YSN Kitchen App available to download FREE on android and IOS. Or, why not head over to the recipe section of our blogs to discover more healthy, tasty and simple dishes to make.
  4. USE LOW CALORIE ALTERNATIVES: Many food items can be swapped for a reduced calorie alternative. For example, low-calorie salad dressings, sauces, and snacks such as cereal bars and popcorn can be used to maintain a balanced diet with a reduced intake of additives, excess fat, and sugar. However, for youth athlete’s energy demand is high so ensuring high quality nutritious meals allows for intake of these so called ‘bad foods’ in moderation such as crisps, popcorn, sweets and cereal bars for extra energy and enjoyment.
  5. INSTEAD OF OILS USE OIL SPRAY: Oils have a large calorie and fat content so by using oil sprays you can easily reduce calorie intake and fat consumption. These extra calories can then be used in consumption of foods with higher nutritional value.
  6. SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH WITH FRESH & DRIED FRUIT: Craving something sweet or want a mid-day snack? Fresh or dried fruit can be a perfect alternative to something high in sugar with low nutritional value and still satisfy your sweet tooth. The high fibre content will help you feel fuller for longer too.
  7. LOOK FOR SNACKS HIGH IN FIBRE: Fibre intake improves feelings of fullness, reducing overall food intake controlling bodyweight and keeps you fuller for longer reducing the need to snack on unhealthy foods [3]. 
    However, avoid these foods right before and during exercise as they can sometimes cause stomach pains.
  8. SWAP UNHEALTHY FATS FOR HEALTHY FATS: Fats are not bad for you and are needed in the diet for protection of your organs, insulation, and absorption of essential vitamins. Reduced consumption of ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats such as cakes, biscuits, cream, cheese, and butter but increased consumption of ‘healthy’ unsaturated fats such as avocado, olives, nuts and seeds helping to achieve a balanced diet.



[1] Warrilow A, Mellor D, McKune A, Pumpa K. Dietary fat, fibre, satiation, and satiety—a systematic review of acute studies. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2019 Mar;73(3):333-44.

[2] Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2009 Mar 1;41(3):709-31.

[3] Warrilow A, Mellor D, McKune A, Pumpa K. Dietary fat, fibre, satiation, and satiety—a systematic review of acute studies. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2019 Mar;73(3):333-44.

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