Nutrition in young players - Part 2 | YouCoach Skip to main content

Nutrition in young players - Part 2

Nutrition in young players - Part 2

What do young players need? Which are the most appropriate foods for their diet? The nutritionist’s suggestions
In the first part of this article we considered how to plan a caloric breakdown starting from the needs of macronutrients such as Protein-Fat-Carbohydrate. In this second part we are going into the details of foods qualities to see which foods should be chosen preferably


Ingested carbohydrates can be used in three different ways depending on their quantity and quality, and on the ingestion moment as well:

  1. They can be transformed into energy
  2. They can be stored in the liver and  muscles (muscle and liver glycogen stores)
  3. When the body is not in need of energy and has no possibility or necessity to create glycogen stores (muscle and liver glycogen) and there is a calorie excess, they can be transformed into fat stores.
Carbohydrates can and should be consumed:
  • In the morning as an energy source for the body to get through the day;
  • At lunch to supply energy for studying in the afternoon, sports and daily activities;
  • Before and during sports activities as an energy source;
  • Soon after sport activity to restore muscle glycogen depleted stores;
  • Moderately in the evening, depending on how carbohydrates have been distributed in the other meals of the day and during practice

After digestion carbohydrates are used mainly as body stores in the liver and muscles. Those stored in the liver are used as a reserve for the whole body, whereas those present in the muscles can be used exclusively by the muscle that has “stored” them (the glycogen in the quadriceps is available only for this muscle and not for the brachial biceps or other muscles of the body).

There are many sources of carbohydrates available, the best known are cereals, fruit and vegetables.

The key criterion for the selection of carbohydrates can be defined as their absorption rate. Refining processes increase the absorption rate (e.g., white bread has a high glycemic index while 100% whole grain rye bread has an average-low index)

Breakfast:  Let’s consider whole-grain cereals and fruit as most useful ingredients for breakfast. These two food  categories are major suppliers of slow-average absorption rate carbohydrates, fibre, mineral salts and vitamins. We should avoid in particular all those products obtained from refined food raw materials (e.g., fine ground flour) and added with fats (like vegetable oils of unknown quality, butter, margarine, etc.), restricting their use to special occasions. Let’s prefer for breakfast whole grain cereals (muesli, oatmeal, whole grain bread, rusks and crackers). Select preferably  seasonal fruit to be included for breakfast or as snacks.

Lunch-dinner: Cereals like rice and pasta can be included in the main meals, preferably whole grain products because of their content of fibre and group B vitamins. Several kinds of carbohydrate sources can be used after exercise, in case of daily exercise high glycemic index foods can be used to restore muscle glycogen stores.

Daily distribution:
  • Breakfast: whole grain cereals (oatmeal, rye flour products, muesli, bran), fruit (preferably seasonal fruit), dehydrated fruit
  • Snack: fruit, whole grain cereals (whole grain crackers or bread)
  • Lunch: pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables
  • Snack before exercise: according to digestibility, palatability and time of exercise, whole grain cereals (bread, rice or corn biscuits) or fruit can be taken

  • Snack after exercise: this meal becomes important only when several training sessions are done during the day or after intense practice (depletion of muscle and liver energy stores is directly related to practice intensity); in this case high glycemic index food with high absorption rate can be taken, such as rice, potatoes, biscuits with honey, dehydrated fruit, etc.
  • Dinner: beans, vegetables, limited portions of carbohydrates from whole grain cereals (amounts vary according to their distribution over the day)

The table below gives the average values for energy and carbohydrate content for 100g of most consumed foods (for more detailed information visit INRAN website A heavy responsibility in uncontrolled body weight increase of young people is to be ascribed to those foods commonly defined as “processed food” (e.g.: breakfast products like biscuits, croissants, brioches, etc.). These products have high calorie values and high fat, sugar and salt contents that certainly increase their palatability (greater and less controlled intake), but are less satiating because of their low bran content. Moreover, most of these products are made from low quality, refined flours that significantly increase insulin stimulation.   
Product - Typea Kcal/100 g Carbohydrate Proteins Fats
Whole rice 362 76.2 7.5 2.7
Pearled barley 352 77.7 9.9 1.15
Oatmeal 375 72 7.7 7.8
Whole grain pasta 350 63 13 2.5
Rusks 407 72.3 13.5 7.2
Muesli 368 76.8 9.85 5.85
Whole rye crackers 334 59 10 1.5
Rice biscuits 377 81 7.5 1.7
Breakfast biscuits 483 67.5 6 21
Chocolate biscuits 497 66 4.6 25
Breakfast biscuit (1 bisc.) 45-60 6.8 - 8.8 0.8 2.6
Empty brioche (1 piece) 178 17.5 3.2 10.6
Jam croissant (1piece) 236 28.9 4.45 11.35
Chocolate croissant (1 piece) 237 25.1 4.95 13.95
Potato chips 547 49.75 6.5 37.4
Baked potatoes 92 21 2.5 0.13
Apple 52 13.8 0.26 0.17
Kiwi 61 14.66 1.15 0.52
Pear 58 15.45 0.38 0.12
Orange 47 11.8 0.94 012
Banana 89 22.8 1.09 0.33


The nutritional values presented in this article have been drawn from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) database and INRAN database

Therefore, non refined foods are recommended for the daily diet of young athletes (to avoid getting unhealthy eating habits in the long term), while respecting anyway the daily requirements of this macronutrient. 


As concerns this macronutrient, mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids should be preferred to saturated acids. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids are supplied by extra virgin olive oil, while poly-unsaturated acids are found in particular in bluefish, dried fruit, seeds. The intake of processed foods should be avoided or minimised because they often contain low quality or hydrogenated fats. 
Composition of edible fats based on saturated and unsaturated fatty acids percentage. Percentage values
  Saturated fatty acids Mono-unsaturated fatty acids Poly-unsaturated fatty acids
Milk fat 60 37 3
Tallow 54 43 3
Lard 43 49 8
Coconut oil 92 6 2
Olive oil 19 73 8
Palm oil 46 44 10
Peanut oil 19 50 31
Soybean oil 14 24 62
Maize germ oil 14 29 57
Sunflower oil 8 27 65
Sufflower oil 10 15 75


According to Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Ernahrung e. V.


Dried fruit and seeds can be included in the breakfast or snacks, both alone or added to yogurt, fruit, salads, etc.

Extra virgin olive oil is certainly a priority choice as a dressing for salads, first courses, second plates.

Eggs are an excellent food from both the calorie and lipids point of view, and can be included as a useful ingredient in the diet. The same applies to fish, wild bluefish should be preferred because of its high protein and omega3 content.

When purchasing transformed or processed food it is recommended to check the nutrition labels of the products, whether they be cheese, preserved products, cereals for breakfast, etc., because they may contain high amounts of fats (beside preservatives and additives). Only the fats used as dressings (especially oil and butter) shall not be taken into account.

Respecting the daily intake requirements for young athletes with a bit of attention and awareness when purchasing food is fundamental for their growth and maturation as well as for their nutritional education.

Product - Type Kcal/100 g Carbohydrates Proteins Fats
Shelled walnuts 703 5 14.3 68
Shelled hazelnuts 673 6 13.8 64
Shelled almonds 603 4.6 22 55.3
Shelled pine nuts 603 4 31.9 50
Pumpkin seeds 586 2.1 37.1 47.7
Whole egg 65 0.34 5.54 4.37
Butter 717 0.6 0.85 81.1
Extra virgin olive oil 884 0 0 100
Mayonnaise 717 3.9 1.1 78.2
Potato chips 547 49.75 6.5 37.4
Breakfast biscuits 483 67.5 6 21
Fresh salmon 183 0 19.9 10.8
Fresh macere 167 0 19.32 9.36


The nutritional values presented in this article have been drawn from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) database and INRAN database


Proteins are macronutrients composed of amino-acids. The quality of edible proteins depends on their amino-acids composition and effective digestion.

Different indexes are used to evaluate proteins quality. Here are the most commonly used ones:

  • Biological value (VB)

This is the most important one, since it indicates the amount of nitrogen used by the body for the growth and/or maintenance.

  • Absorption coefficient (CUD)

It indicates the efficiency with which a protein is digested, maximum value is 100.

  • Net protein utilization  (N:P:U.)

This index takes into account both the digestive efficiency and the amino-acid pattern

  • Chemical index (I.C.)

It takes into account only the amino-acid pattern (the others are measured on the basis of the actual behaviour of the body)


The quality of food proteins

The following table gives the nutritional indexes of different food proteins and allows some interesting remarks to be made. 
Cows’ milk 3.5 84 97 82 94
Egg 12 94 100 94 100
Calf Meat 18 74 90 67 100
Fish 19 80 100 80 100
Wheat 12 65 61 40 56
Soya 40 73 83 61 80

% P = percentage protein content

From: "Chimica degli alimenti", Cappelli e Vannucchi, Zanichelli

This index is the Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score and is a method of evaluating the protein quality based on both the amino-acid requirements of humans and their ability to digest the proteins they eat..
Back to practice, it is advisable to include high quality proteins at least in main meals, i.e., lunch and dinner. As we can see from the above tables, they are present in a large variety of foods. When a vegetarian or vegan diet is chosen, soya- or beans based products can be used, as well as food from hemp proteins in order to satisfy the daily requirements and vary the nutrient sources. Unprocessed meat should be preferred, and those products labelled as “mechanically separated meat” should be avoided. Meat from animals bred on the ground should be preferred, and the same applies for wild fish over farmed fish. Milder cooking methods should be chosen for meat and fish so as to avoid damaging or burning the proteins of the food. The addition of fats as dressings or in cooking should be carefully controlled because they do increase the palatability of foods but also slow down digestion.
The use of low-fat protein sources is recommended to increase digestibility and avoid exceeding daily fat requirements. Therefore, white meats and low fat fish should be preferred over red meat and cheese, particularly for the meals prior to practice or match.
Distribution over the day:
  • Breakfast: yogurt (Greek, natural whole, natural low fat, soya, unsweetened yogurt), egg, etc.
  • Snack: almonds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, etc.
  • Lunch: fish, meat, soya-based products, beans, eggs, etc.
  • Snack prior to practice: low fat deli, yogurt, etc.
  • Snack after practice: low fat deli, yogurt, etc.
  • Dinner: fish, meat, soya-based products, beans, eggs, etc


Once daily requirements have been fixed, it is important to draw attention to the quality of food and its digestibility. Digestion time for carbohydrates is about 60 minutes, 90-120 for proteins, about 3 hours for fats. Therefore, the young players that take all three macronutrients should respect the maximum time (3 hours), so that all the energy supply is available for use, especially before a match.


Future nutritional choices of young athletes are very important and are strongly influenced by the inputs they received from an early age (from their family firstly)

Encouraging correct nutritional choices is as essential as a good balance of daily calories and macronutrients, in order to support the young athlete in his growth, studies and football performance.


  • – Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca per gli alimenti e la Nutrizione
  • – Società Italiana Nutrizione Sport e Benessere
  • – Consiglio per la Ricerca in Agricoltura e l’Analisi dell’Economia Agraria
  • Cappelli, Vannucchi "Chimica degli Alimenti", Zanichelli


Warning: Before embarking on any diet program and / or additions and / or exercise always consult your doctor; the information provided cannot be considered as prescriptions, advice or medical indications, and you are free to follow them taking all responsibility for any consequences arising from a wrong interpretation thereof and / or for any other reason on the same facts.



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