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Four Ways to Punch Up the Protein for Your Young Athlete

The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity.

Outside of game or race day, protein is an important nutrient to help kiddos build strong bodies!

All children need protein in their diets to grow and stay healthy. Protein helps children build new tissue, including bones and muscle. For sporty kids, protein also lends a hand in muscle repair after activity (e.g. Kids Obstacle Challenge).1

But there’s more to protein than building and repairing muscles. Protein may also have an influence on appetite.2 Research suggests the presence of protein in a meal or a snack can help promote a sense of fullness, which may help with appetite regulation.3

Other researchers emphasize the importance of distributing protein equally throughout the day to help improve protein balance in the body.4,5 According to the science, this helps ensure protein is available to fuel growth and muscle recovery.

Most nutrition experts agree that getting protein from food is the ideal strategy for young, growing athletes. It tastes good and can help keep hunger at bay. Here are five ways to punch up the protein in a young athlete’s diet:

1. Include a Protein Source at Each Meal

When planning meals, choose a protein source first and then build the meal around it. There are many protein-containing foods to choose from, including chicken, fish, eggs, dairy and plant-based sources like beans, peas, nuts and nut butters.

2. Step Up the Snack Quality

Kids often snack on less than nutritious options, and little athletes are no exception. Adding a source of protein to a snack not only improves its nutrition quality, it can help evenly distribute protein throughout the day and keep the momentum of growth and repair in motion. CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein is a delicious and nutritious option that provides a good source of hunger-helping protein from dairy and pea protein to fuel kids’ growing bodies and satisfy their rumbling bellies.

3. Focus on the Protein Distribution

The timing of protein intake is a key factor to its benefits for the young athlete. It’s when the magic happens, like that feeling of fullness after eating (which can mean fewer requests for more snacks!). Offer your kids protein with meals, as well as snacks every few hours (as needed) to optimize growth and development.

4. Add Milk or Soymilk to the Routine

Milk and soymilk offer about eight grams of protein per cup and, when added to the food routine, make for an easy protein option. Both offer an additional punch of nutrition in the form of calcium and vitamin D, which are important nutrients for bone growth and maintenance. If your little athlete is allergic to milk or soymilk, try a pea-based milk, which is plant-based and delivers protein and key nutrients.


  1. Nutritional Concerns for the Child and Adolescent Competitor. Heather J. Petrie, MS, Elizabeth A. Stover, MS, and Craig A. Horswill, PhD From the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Barrington, Illinois, USA.
  2. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, "breakfast-skipping," late-adolescent girls. Leidy HJ, Ortinau LC, Douglas SM, Hoertel HA. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013.
  3. A high-protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in "Breakfast skipping" adolescents. Leidy HJ, Hoertel HA, Douglas SM, Higgins KA, Shafer RS. Obesity. 2015.
  4. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. Mamerow MM, et al. J Nutr. 2014.
  5. Protein consumption and resistance exercise: maximizing anabolic potential. Phillips SM. 2013. From the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Barrington, IL.