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Youth Athlete Nutritional Requirements – Carbohydrates

Mind-set is everything, how a young athlete perceives food and drink is vitally important. Generally, youth athletes are led by their taste, if it tastes ‘nice’ then they will be happy to eat it. Unfortunately, most youth athletes prefer the taste of chocolate over broccoli. So, it’s our mission to educate athletes and parents on the reasons why food choices are so important in developing athletes to achieve or sustain elite level performances.

Food is fuel, It’s really that simple. Depending on the type of sport the fuel varies slightly, but core principle’s never change. Our team constantly evaluate the latest research and literature, then develop easy-to-read blogs for our audience to digest.

Healthy Carbs for Teens

Carbohydrate Fundamentals.

In this article, we are covering Carbohydrates fundamentals, defining, explaining, helping you calculate individual requirement, offering examples and food tables.  

Carbohydrates, much like Calories do receive a fair share of bad press. Again, its important athletes and parents understand how to strike a balance, because:

Too many Carbohydrates from the ‘wrong’ sources can cause weight gain and insulin resistance (Kocsis, 2006).

Not enough Carbohydrates will increase your chances of fatigue and negatively impact performance (Saskatchewan, 2013).


Muscles burn Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates as fuel during exercise, the amount of each depends on the length and intensity of the exercise. It’s widely accepted that the greater the exercise intensity the more your muscles will use carbohydrate stores for fuel (Bean, 2013).

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen, if the store becomes depleted the body will start to fatigue and exercise will become much harder (Bean, 2013). It is advised to start training / competing with your glycogen stores full to delay the onset of fatigue. This process if sometimes known as Carbohydrate Loading, be careful not to go overboard. Check the link to our special blog all about Carbohydrate Loading.

Individual Requirements.

This table demonstrates a youth athlete’s daily carbohydrate requirements.

Daily Training Regime (hours)

Carbohydrates (g) per KG of body weight.


5 - 6


6 - 7


7 - 8

Over 4

8 - 10

Adapted from Bean, 2013

To use this table correctly, you’ll need to know how many hours of exercise per day and the weight of your athlete. Don’t worry about knowing what a gram of carbohydrates look like, we will explain that next.

This can be confusing for parents with athletes who need to meet a specific weight requirement, for example a boxer. This is something that needs to be discussed with a nutritionist on an individual level. Furthermore, parents with athletes who have health conditions, such as diabetes, must consult a doctor before changing their diet.

Carbohydrate Examples.

For the purpose of this article we break down carbohydrates into two different types: 

Simple Carbohydrates are often described as sugary, whilst Complex Carbohydrates are referred to as Starchy or Fibrous.


Complex vs Simple Carbs Youth Athlete

Is important athletes are fuelled up with the correct Carbohydrates. Our sports science team recommends nutritious low GI Carbs to eat on higher training days and/or in the days leading into competition:

  • Wholegrain Breads
  • Cereals
  • Pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Sweet Potato
  • Quinoa
  • Ect…

Fibrous Carbohydrate foods provide less calories and are packed with nutrients rich, therefore perfect to consume on lower training/rest days:

- Asparagus

- Green Beans

- Broccoli

- Brussels Sprouts

- Carrots

- Cauliflower

- Celery

- Cucumber

- Ect…

Food Tables.

Counting Carbohydrates is difficult, but there are some great tools available online. For a quick look at Carbohydrate content of varies food, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust have collated some useful food and drinks tables of Carbohydrates. This will allow you to make sure you know exactly what quantity of Carbohydrates different food contains, please see the link for Food Tables


So there you have it, a whistle stop tour guide to carbohydrate intake for youth athletes. Like this article? Share it with the link below if you feel it can add value to a friend, family member or coach.




Reference list

Carbohydrate Counting Reference Tables (2010). Available at: (Accessed: 22 December 2017).

Bean, A. (2013) Sports nutrition for young athletes. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Saskatchewan, J. (2013) Sports Nutrition for Youth Athletes.

Kocsis, M. (2006) Savvy eating for the whole family. Sterling, Va.: Capital Books.

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