Many youth athletes believe protein is the main nutrient needed in their diets.

While protein may not be the main nutrient, it does indeed play a crucial role in an athlete’s balanced nutrition, and it is an important building block for developing strength and peak performance. Vital for creating and maintaining muscle, the timing and sources of protein consumed are just as important as the amount eaten. However, athletes young and old need to of course also incorporate carbohydrates and fat into their diets.

Good protein sources for youth athletes

Athletes need to consume a wide variety of high-quality protein foods to grow, repair, and maintain muscle. Some examples of good protein sources (and recommended serving sizes) are:

FoodServing SizeGrams of Protein
Chicken Breast3 oz25 g
Ground Beef4 oz24 g 
Cottage Cheese1/2 cup12 g
Yogurt8 oz11 g
Cooked Black Beans1/2 cup8 g
Peanut Butter2 tbsp.7 g
Egg1 large7 g
Mixed nuts1/4 cup5 g

How much protein do youth athletes need?

The amount of protein needed by a youth athlete varies based on their athletic goals. Per the TrueSport Nutrition Guide, the following amounts of protein are recommended daily for these different types of athletes:

Endurance: 0.54-0.64 g per pound of body weight
Strength (gaining muscle mass): 0.72-0.81 g per pound of body weight 
Strength (maintaining muscle mass): 0.54-0.64 g per pound of body weight 
Weight Restricted: 0.63-0.81 g per pound of body weight

When should youth athletes eat protein?

The body’s ability to recover from games, practices, or intense workouts requires adequate rest and proper nutrition. An important component of the recovery process is consuming both carbohydrates and protein shortly after exercise to restore muscle glycogen and stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Eating protein after resistance training decreases physical breakdown and encourages muscle growth. Eating several small meals that include about 30 grams of protein throughout the day will also support training and muscle-building.

What happens if a youth athlete eats too much protein?

Excess protein may not necessarily be dangerous, but it will also not necessarily cause you to develop bigger muscles, run faster or jump higher, as there is only so much protein that can be absorbed in the body per day.

Do youth athletes need to take protein supplements?

Athletes may feel the need to get protein from supplements because they think it is an easier way to put on muscle. However, they are encouraged to challenge this thought and instead alter their diets to include more protein from proven high-quality sources. Not only is food a better source that gives you many other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs, protein supplements can contain ingredients that are unproven to work, loaded with extra sugar and other unhealthy ingredients, or are even dangerous.

Recommended resources

To learn more about good protein sources for youth athletes, recommended daily values, and why protein supplements aren’t the best choice, check out our free TrueSport Nutrition Guide.

TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA-the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field. Visit for more.