Dairy and Sports Nutrition:
Teen Athletes

Whether rock climbing, taking the field, or running the track, help your teen perform their best with nutrition that fuels.

Healthy Eating for Teen Athletes

Good nutrition is vital for any athlete. Teen athletes need energy, protein, and nutrients for athletic performance as well as growth and development. Diets lacking calories and nutrients can impact students’ ability to perform well in sports and the classroom.

Nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and dairy provide teens with the fuel they need to be their best. Milk, cheese, and yogurt contain a unique nutrient package that makes it easy to get a lot of nutrition in one serving. Milk is a leading food source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, nutrients teens don’t get enough of.  Dairy foods contribute high-quality protein which is important for athletes who choose a plant-based diet. These, along with other nutrients found in milk, are key to support bone, muscle, and heart health.

Planning Meals and Snacks to Fuel Performance

It’s important for any athlete to stay hydrated, eat regularly, and choose nutrient-rich foods for meals, snacks, and recovery.  Starting with breakfast at home or at school will help teens keep their brains and bodies fueled properly.

Meals and Snacks Choose foods that provide a mix of carbohydrate to provide energy (fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk);  protein to aid muscle building and repair (lean meats, cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds, eggs); and healthy fat to help with vitamin absorption (oils, seeds, nuts, butter). Beverage choices should be hydrating.

Pre-workout/game Choose foods with carbohydrate to fuel for exercise and high-quality protein to help repair and build muscle. Focus on foods low in fat and fiber to avoid upset stomach. Examples include yogurt and fruit, cheese and whole grain crackers, or whole-grain cereal with milk.

During training/competition Hydrate with water and choose easy-to-digest carbohydrate-containing foods. Examples include sliced oranges or a small granola bar to avoid upset stomach.

Recovery Choose foods with carbohydrates and high-quality protein. Chocolate milk has the ideal amounts of protein and carbohydrate to support muscle refuel and repair. White milk can also be an option and both can help with hydration needs. Ideally, recovery foods should be consumed within 15-60 minutes of and again 3-4 hours after exertion. 

Three young athletes standing on starting line of track, ready to race.

Nutrition Tips for Teen Athletes to Perform their Best

Discover essential nutrition tips for teenage athletes to optimize performance on and off the field. From energizing breakfast ideas to recovery snacks, learn how to fuel your teen to help them feel and preform their best.

Read More

Energizing Meal & Snacks Ideas

  • Perfect Pairs

    Mix and match cheese and yogurt to increase protein and calcium in your meal.

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  • Create a Dairy Delicious Bowl

    Dairy makes the perfect base for customizable, protein-packed breakfast or lunch.

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  • Protein for Performance: Information and Fueling Ideas
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Related FAQs

Is milk good before a workout?

Pre-workout nutrition is important to prepare the body for working hard and energy expenditure. Carbohydrates provide fuel for exercise and are the main source of energy for muscles. Throughout the day, focus on a varied diet filled with whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. Include high-quality protein at each meal to help repair and build muscles. As you get closer to your workout, focus on foods low in fat and fiber to avoid stomach upset.

During exercise, focus on replacing fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates as needed. Based on the duration of the activity, recommendations will change. Make sure to always have water and fuel on hand.

Dairy is a great choice for exercise recovery. The carbohydrates in milk refuel muscles and replenish energy stores while the high-quality protein repairs and rebuilds muscles. Milk also replaces electrolytes lost in sweat. Learn more about hydration and recovery here. 

Is chocolate milk good for recovery after a workout or endurance activity?

When refueling after a run, your goal is to replenish glycogen stores with carbohydrates and rebuild muscle with protein. Chocolate milk contains an ideal 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein for this purpose. A study found that runners who consumed fat-free chocolate milk after a strenuous run, “ran 23% longer and had a 38% increase in markers of muscle building compared to when they drank a carbohydrate-only sports beverage with the same number of calories.” Chocolate milk also replenishes electrolytes which are important for runners to prevent muscle fatigue and cramping. 

Is milk good for athletes?

Milk packs in 13 essential nutrients in every serving, including, protein, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin D, which contribute to healthy immune function. Milk’s nutrient package make it an affordable and accessible source of fuel for an athlete. 

Is whey protein good for athletes?

Whey protein is a high-quality protein naturally found in dairy. It is a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids (“building blocks”) your body needs and is easy to digest. Whey protein is also one of the best sources of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) including leucine, which has been shown to stimulate muscle synthesis.

Whey is a fast-acting protein that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and arrive at the muscles very quickly. Whey is fast fuel for the muscles. Research shows that whey can help build and repair muscle after workouts. 

How much milk should an athlete drink per day?

Throughout the day, athletes should focus on a varied diet filled with whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. They should include high-quality protein from animal-sourced foods like dairy at each meal to help repair and build muscles.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three low-fat or fat-free dairy servings in the Healthy U.S. and Healthy Vegetarian patterns, and two to two and a half servings in the Healthy Mediterranean for adults, and three servings for those 9 to 18 years of age.

What nutrients does dairy have?

Dairy is nutrient-rich and its health benefits are supported by a robust body of science that continues to grow. View the individual nutrients for milk, yogurt, and cheese.

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