What should an elite junior athlete eat?

July 12, 2019

What should a sporty girl eat

I am Holly and I am a Diet and Nutrition Advisor, specializing in Nutrition for sport, weight loss and Nutrition for general health and well-being. I have been asked by everactiv to take a look at a day in the life of a young athlete, looking at her food intake and training regime and to highlight areas that could be improved upon. In the following weeks I will provide yummy recipes too!

Brief overview of the athlete

Isla is a 16-year-old elite triathlete who trains 10-12 hours per week during school term and 18-20 hours during school breaks. I will be analyzing her food intake based on her school term schedule. Her sessions consist of 3 swims, 2 cycles and 3 run sessions, burning on average 459 calories per day.

Below is a snap shot of a “normal” day of food/drink for her. I have broken everything down into Calories, Fat, Saturated Fat, Carbohydrates, Sugar and Protein.


Anaylsis of her diet


Isla’s calorie intake was, on average 2290 per day, when we take off the calories that she burnt training it brings it down to an actual calorie intake of 1786 calories. Which is a little too low, she should be eating a minimum actual calorie intake (after training calories have been taken off) of 2200 every day. She would have to eat even more per day when she is training 18-20 hours per week.

It is also the quality of the calories that are important. We want Isla to be eating foods that are of high quality so that she is fuelled properly for her training. She’s pretty good at eating healthy though.

Not eating enough calories will force the body to use muscle and hold on to fat. The body considers muscle to be expendable during periods of starvation, and it considers fat to be necessary to insulate your organs for survival. So eating the right amount of calories is vital.

It is getting that balance right where you are eating the right amount of calories BUT also the best quality of calories.



The total amount of fat Isla consumed was 58.6g per day, this is ok as long as the fat is coming from good, unsaturated sources. We want to ensure that Isla's saturated fat intake is as low as possible.

Saturated fat isn't necessarily the deadly toxin it is sometimes made out to be though. In moderation, some saturated fat is ok. Things like peanut butter, eggs and avocado contain saturated fats, but also contain unsaturated fats, which help reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.

The body does need fat to work efficiently, but the majority of fat we consume should come from unsaturated fat sources like avocado, oily fish, olive oil, natural nuts and natural peanut butter/nut butters.

Isla did eat some good fats in the form of Peanut Butter, which is a great source of protein, potassium (which is an electrolyte, it is important for nerve and muscle health) and fibre.



Isla’s total carbohydrate intake was about 298 grams per day, which is great. Carbohydrates are the first form of energy that our body can use so it is really important we include carbohydrates in our diet, especially as an athlete. These carbohydrates will be fuelling her for her training.

The main sources of carbs that Isla ate were the bagel, cappuccino, orange juice, yogurt, granola, apple, pasta, noodles, rice, mars bar and anything that contains sugar also counts as a carbohydrate.

You have to have the correct carbs to fuel your body, for example white bread products, white rice, white pasta, white flour are NOT ideal- they give you a quick release of sugar, spiking your blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar comes down you get hungry and you feel tired.

Wholemeal products like brown bread, brown pasta, brown rice, wholemeal noodles are the best carbs and what Isla wants to fuel her body for training and racing.


Isla’s total sugar intake was 122.5g per day, which equates to around 30.6tsp sugar. This sounds quite high, but most of this came from natural sources like dairy, fruit and veggies, Dairy contains Lactose and fruit/veggies contain Fructose.

Some of Isla’s sugar intake came from the following:


White bagel - 1.2tsp sugar

Cappuccino - 2.3tsp sugar

25g Granola - 1.3tsp sugar

Mars bar - 7.6tsp sugar

200ml Orange juice- 5tsp sugar *Although this is a “natural” juice, if it is shop bought, it needs to be pasteurised so by the time the juice hits your glass the majority of nutrients have been lost. You aren’t gaining the fibre, pectin and nutrients from it as you would be if was the whole fruit you were eating.

Sugar does have its place when you are training, it is great to give you that bit of extra energy, and it is easily converted into your blood stream for a quick release. We need a certain amount for our bodies to function, sugar intake whether from natural or processed sources is still essentially sugar and any that is not used will be stored. The best sources are natural sources like fruits and veggies. Refined sugars, like her mars bar, should be kept to a minimum.


Isla’s protein intake is around 122 grams per day, which is good.

Most of this came from the bagel, peanut butter, yogurt, tomato pasta and the chicken breast.

Protein is great for muscle repair and recovery and is the building blocks for our bodies. If you eat a balanced diet you should get enough protein for your body to use. When you are training 10-12 hours per week, like Isla, you could take on a little extra in the form of a natural protein shake especially after longer sessions.

It is important that the sources of protein Isla is eating are lean proteins like chicken, lean beef, low fat cheeses, eggs, turkey and natural yoghurt and not from processed meat.

Water intake

Isla’s water intake is not great, she only really had a large glass of water mixed with fruit juice. We want to make sure she is hitting her water intake consistently, this is also important as she will be sweating when she is training, so it is vital to keep hydrated.

50-60% of your body is made up of water so if you are not drinking enough you can get dehydrated pretty quickly. It is so so so important to be hydrated. Water also helps in your digestion, 1.5-2L a day is where you want to be at, this will ensure that your body is functioning at its optimum level when it is completely hydrated.

Isla needs to drink a minimum of 1.5L per day, more if she has trained hard. Go by the colour of your pee, if it is a nice pale colour great! If it’s darker in colour then drink more!

You could add some natural lime/lemon juice to water to make it a bit more exciting. Or buy a fruit infusion water bottle.


Isla did drink coffee too but this is a diuretic, it is the caffeine that makes it a diuretic, which means that it can increase your need to pee and you may lose more water from your body than what you gain from drinking it.

In summary,

Isla’s diet is pretty good but she should work on a few things:

  1. Increase her calories by 414 calories/day. She can do this by taking in a protein shake after training; a recipe for this will be posted next week.
  2. Reduce some of her simple sugars (not eat a chocolate bar) and replace it with some complex sugars – like some fruit with yogurt.
  3. Drink a lot more water- this will keep her better hydrated and will not only allow her to perform better in training but allow her to recover better.

Hopefully this has given you an idea of what is a good diet for a young athlete. If you have any questions please feel free to email me: holly@itsnutrition.co.uk

My website is www.itsnutrition.co.uk and you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, just search It’s Nutrition and look for the rocket!


About Holly

Holly Hodge (S.A.C Dip) is a qualified Diet and Nutrition Advisor based in Ayrshire, Scotland. She is a keen runner, gym bunny and cook.  She decided to combine her passion for food and how it works within the body with helping others to achieve their nutritional goals.

Her favourite motto is “Never start a diet that you cannot sustain for life.”

What we eat and put into our bodies should be a pleasurable experience. Nobody wants to go through life counting calories and restricting themselves to certain foods.  The plans she creates are designed to fit into your lifestyle, so that you change the way you eat for life.


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