About 30% of teen athletes skip breakfast and 25% skip lunch. That’s a big mistake. Student athletes have different nutritional needs, especially on training and game days. To perform their best, they need the right fuel.

There are three key components to the ideal “performance plate”: grains or starches, proteins, and fruits and vegetables.

Grains/Starches: Energy
Glucose, the building block of carbohydrates, is the main source of energy for our muscles and our central nervous system. First, our bodies use what’s available in your bloodstream. Then they move on to glycogen, the stored glucose in our muscles and liver. The body can only store so much glycogen, so it’s vital to replenish its stores. If it runs out, then it’ll begin to break down muscle proteins for energy, which negatively impacts performance and recovery. Without adequate fuel, athletes experience fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and reduced motor skills.

Proteins: Recovery & Muscle-Building
Proteins are involved in the development, growth, and repair of muscle as well as other body tissues. Lean dietary protein is best because too many saturated fats will promote inflammation, which is detrimental to performance and recovery.
Fruits & Vegetables: Defense
Fruits and veggies provide our bodies with vitamins and minerals that help us stay healthy! They also provide antioxidants, which keep our immune systems in top shape for performance, aid in recovery, and protect cells from oxidative stress caused by increased oxygen intake during exercise.

And Don’t Forget to Hydrate!
Adequate hydration is critical both in preparation for, and in recovery from, physical activity. In addition to drinking the recommended half of his or her body weight in ounces of water a day, there’s always room for fluid-rich fruits and vegetables in an athlete’s diet.

Training and Game Day—What’s the Difference?
On training days, it’s recommended that athletes eat equal amounts of grains/starches, protein, and vegetables. But on game days, they need more energy.

For intense training and competition, glucose stores need to be topped off. The 1960s studies that gave us “carbo-loading” were onto something. The carbohydrates athletes consume one hour before exercise add to their glucose levels, and those consumed four hours before exercise add to their glycogen stores.

But eating moderate amounts of fiber, fat, and protein keep athletes satiated during a game. Eating too much of these, however, would lead to slow digestion and the discomfort of exercising on a full stomach. Use these guidelines, which hold true across all meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner – when building a plate on training and game days.