Back To School Nutrition for Athletes: What to focus on

Heading back to school can be overwhelming; new teachers, new classes, new expectations. Add sports into the mix and you’re likely to feel a bit overwhelmed. Mention fitting in proper nutrition and you are probably rolling your eyes at this point. 

From not being able to eat or drink during classes, to running straight from school into practice or a game; school can make it difficult to meet your nutrition needs. Today I am hitting the highlights when it comes to back-to-school nutrition for athletes. While it is (always) impossible to perfectly meet your nutrition needs, here are the top 3 back-to-school nutrition priorities I recommend as a Registered Sports Dietitian: 

1: Eat a Full Breakfast! Is it cool to eat breakfast yet? I remember in high school trying to fit in with my peers and only having a piece or two of candy or a Diet Coke (am I showing my age here?) instead of eating a real meal.  This didn’t last long as I often suffered the consequences, I was starving by the time lunch arrived and drooling at the vending machines before practice. But I digress…Eating breakfast is essential for all my athletes. Why? As I mentioned before it is difficult to fit in meals and snacks during school hours. Often snacks are prohibited during the day and most of my athletes need at least 3 meals and 2 snacks. It is also beneficial to spread protein throughout your day by consuming it regularly, about every three to five hours instead of all at once or only towards the end of the day.

By eating breakfast you start your day off with energy by “breaking the fast”, meet that first protein window, fill in for that mid-morning snack you are probably going to miss and arrive at lunch as yourself instead of a ravenous beast. Not to mention this will absolutely help with focus and attention in school! 

What should breakfast look like? Aim for at least the Moderate Intensity Plate OR if you are new to breakfast start small! Put a banana on top of your bookbag as a reminder or sip on a horizon milk on your way. 

Need some breakfast ideas? Start here! 

2: Create a Hydration Plan. As hokey as this one sounds, you really do need to find yourself a hydration plan. Why? Hydration is important for things like regulating body temperature, delivering nutrients and energy! Even mild dehydration can cause a drop in energy, which in turn can affect mental and physical performance (on and off the court). 

While hydration needs for activity vary from person to person, I always encourage an athlete to already be hydrated for activity, which means creating a general hydration plan for throughout the day versus just around activity. For daily requirements, a good starting point is half your weight in ounces per day or if you are in the 18 and under crowd, 10- 8 ounce cups for females, 14- 8 ounce cups for males. 

Start thinking about your day- Where do you get the most fluids? Where are you lacking? Remember too that all fluids count! Juice, milk, water, and beyond. Learn how to create your hydration plan here.

3: Pack Snacks. Snacks are essential to survive the school day. They can fill in when you miss breakfast, make up for a poorly packed (or bought) lunch, serve as a pre-workout or post-workout snack, and help you meet your overall needs.  

Think about it. Let’s say you ate lunch around 12 pm (if you are lucky, some eat around 10 am!) and then you eat dinner around 6 or so. That is SIX hours without fuel, some of which might be spent in practice or a game. You need that fuel!

One thing I suggest for athletes is to create a “Performance Pack“; a collection of shelf-stable items that you can keep in a gym bag, car, or locker and use for a variety of meals or snacks. This takes away the daily burden of trying to remember to pack your snacks because you have already created a collection to choose from. 

Build one using the post here

Need even more snack ideas? Start here


Do a quick meal prep! Do you have to be a whiz in the kitchen to do some prepping? Absolutely not! Simply making and freezing your own uncrustables, portioning out a few sandwich bags full of pretzels, making smoothie bags to freeze, or even just stocking up on pre-packaged goods for grab-and-go options can make a difference.

Looking for more guidance on these top priorities?

See my challenge on Instagram starting August 2nd! We will review each priority for the coming school year and I will have some new recipes, additional meal and snack ideas, printable guides, and a cooking demo! You don’t want to miss it! 

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