What Should Teen Sprinters Eat?

To a non-athlete, all types of running may seem the same. However, sprinting and long distance are totally different and nutrition goals can be very different for sprinters versus endurance runners. This is for you sprinters. How should you fuel your body for sprinting? What should teen sprinters eat?

The body of a teen sprinter will work harder than an endurance runner. In other words, sprinting tends to burn more calories because of the intensity of the activity. Teen sprinter nutrition should be focused on consuming enough calories for both activity and recovery

Teen sprinters should eat high-quality carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats for meals and snacks such as a protein and fruit smoothie, pasta salad, brown rice curry, hummus veggie pita, sandwich, egg omelet with toast, oatmeal with fruit and nuts, or rice with fish.

Read on to discover the best nutrition tips for fueling your sprints from a registered dietitian nutritionist. 

Image by nappy via Pexels

What Should Teen Sprinters Eat?

Teen sprinters are incredibly talented and should be able to count on their bodies to keep up. Nutrition is a key part of sprint training and recovery. Being the fastest you can be involves proper nutrition and timing.  

You can thing of the old comparison that your body is a machine that needs the best and the right kind of fuel to work. You will perform at your top potential if you fill your tank with the right food for fuel.

Teen sprinters should eat foods that supplies the right kind of needed energy for their muscles to store for races, recovery, training, and daily activities.

Understanding the Body’s Role in Sprint Nutrition

Sprint athletes need their bodies to generate a lot of muscle power. Other goals of sprint training include: 

  • Optimizing power-to-weight ratio
  • Enhancing anaerobic energy generation
  • Ensuring carbohydrates are available and optimized for training

Some nutrition needs for sprinters, like protein, may be as much as twice the general population. Specific recommendations for sprinters can help teen athletes meet these needs.

Important Nutrients for Teen Sprinters

A recent study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism said it best: 

“Despite the short duration of competitions and relative long-recovery periods between races, nutrition still plays an important role in sprint performance.” 

All runners need the same types of nutrients, but teen sprinters may need a different proportion of nutrients at different times to support sprint performance compared to their long distance peers.

In other words, sprinters shouldn’t cut out or overload on a specific food group. Sprinters also need a balanced diet to reach peak performance and support recovery. 

Types of Energy for Sprinters

Sprinting has a high metabolic demand. The first way that these needs should be met is through diet. A dietitian can recommend the appropriate supplements if needs are not properly being met through the diet. 

A sprinter needs to meet the recommendations for macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Macronutrient Needs for Teen Sprinters:

Teenager sprinters need the perfect balance of nutrients for sprinting.

  • 50-60% of calories from carbohydrates
  • 15% or more of calories from fat
  • 25% of calories from protein

Carbohydrates (carbs) are considered more important for longer running events. However, teenage sprinters still need carbs in their diet in order to reach peak  performance. As a general rule, runners typically consume about 60% of calories from carbohydrates. 

Sprinters Should Try the Following High-Quality Carbs: 

  • Whole-grain bread, rice, or pasta
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Berries 
  • Sweet potato
  • Oatmeal 
  • Lowfat dairy products
  • Beans

Some gluten-free carbohydrate options include: 

  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Legumes 
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats
  • Fruit
  • Ancient grains (i.e. sorghum, teff)
  • Peas 
  • Lentils
  • Milk
  • Yogurt 
  • Soy
  • Edamame 

Runners should know that their muscle fibers use carbohydrates for energy as a primary source. This makes consuming carbohydrates for energy extremely important. You may have heard that carbohydrates are “bad for you” and “fatttening” and “unhealthy”. The only carbs that are “bad carbs” are the processed, refined, and sugary carbohydrates. Many healthy foods contain carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lowfat dairy products.

Your body can store some carbohydrates for use later in the day. Sprinters should eat carbohydrates at every meal and snack to fuel their muscles appropriately and keep their energy stores high.

Healthy Fats

Fats are also extremely helpful for a sprinter’s fuel. Healthy fats are needed for a balanced diet. These include options such as:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish (i.e. salmon, tuna)

Fats should never drop below 15% of caloric intake for sprinters.

Protein Needs

Similar to other athletes, sprinters need protein to meet the increased demands of training. Sprinters have intense periods of activity and recovery. Protein plays a unique role in recovery to help rebuild damaged muscle and tissue. 

Ideal sources of protein for sprinters include: 

  • Lean meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Eggs
  • Soybeans
  • Quinoa
  • Oats

Typically, protein should make up around 25% of caloric intake of a teen’s diet. The amount thought sufficient for sprinters is around 1.6-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you don’t know how much you weigh in kilograms, take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. For example a 150 pound runner equals 68 kilograms (150 divided by 2.2) and would need 108 to 122 grams of protein daily (68 x 1.6= 108 and 68 x 1.8= 122).

A dietitian can help you find the specific amount and types of protein that fuel your growing, active body.

See also: Is It Okay for a Teenager to Drink Protein Shakes and Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend  

Best Foods for Sprinters

What is “best” for each sprinter will be different. However, as a general rule, it is important to include the following quality foods in an athlete’s diet: 

  • Whole Grains
  • Lean meats and proteins
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Healthy fats and oils (i.e. avocado oil)

Here are some of the best food ideas for fueling healthy, fast sprinters. Dietitian Approved!

Best Snack Ideas for Sprinters

  • Raw or uncooked nuts
  • Greek yogurt parfait
  • Grass-fed cheese
  • Glass of chocolate milk
  • High-protein yogurt with fresh fruit and granola
  • Peanut butter and a rice cake
  • Protein bar

More snack links:

Best Meal Ideas for Sprinters

At Home 

  • Salmon with vegetables and brown rice
  • Bowl of cereal
  • Smoothie bowl
  • Pasta salad
  • Salad and a sandwich
  • Pancake with peanut butter and sliced banana

On the Go

  • Tuna Salad Sandwich
  • Canned tuna or salmon with crackers
  • Granola, sliced fruit, and nut butter
  • Small peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Smoothie
  • Trial mix, chocolate milk, and string cheese
  • String cheese and pretzels with hummus
  • Oatmeal with fruit and nuts

Nutrition Meal Plan for Teenage Athletes

How Many Calories Should Teen Sprinters Eat?

Making sure that calories keep up with this type of exercise is part of making it safer for teen sprinters. Proper calorie intake makes sure teenagers stay fueled on and off the track. Proper nutrition also helps prevent injuries. Integrating a balanced diet plan into training schedules is key to maintaining good health, no matter if it’s on or off season. 

Calculating Calories for Teen Sprinters

The following chart can help determine general calorie recommendations for sprinters according to gender and age: 

SexAgeCalories Recommended for Activity Levels
Boys:132,600 calories per day
14-152,800-3,000 calories
16-183,200 calories
193,000 calories
Girls:132,200 calories
14-182,400 calories
192,400 calories

You don’t have to track calories every day, but it can be helpful to have an idea for appropriately fueling a sprinter with enough energy. Many high school athletes do not eat enough calories and this negatively affects performance, training, recovery, and increases chance for injury.

Looking for specific advice for your season from a registered dietitian nutritionist? Check out my meal plan ebook: Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Athletes

What Foods Should Sprinters Avoid/Limit?

Are there any foods that teenage runners should avoid? Sprinters may be tempted to try the keto (or other) trends that pop up from time to time. The bottom line is this — dietary habits should typically include all the food groups, not have too many “food rules”, and offer a balanced, eating plan that isn’t stressful and difficult to follow. 

Sprinters Should Always Avoid These Foods:

  • Alcohol -any amount of alcohol is a bad idea for an athlete (especially teenagers)
  • Energy drinks -they are usually carbonated, full of caffeine, sugar, and other unnecessary ingredients
  • Artificial sweeteners– these can affect digestion and cause an upset stomach

Sprinters Should Try Not to Eat a Lot of These Foods:

  • Fatty foods and fried foods such as french fries, burgers, fried chicken, bacon
  • Sugary foods and treats
  • Soda and other sugary beverages
  • Highly processed snack foods

Sprinters Should Avoid These Foods Before Running Practice or Competition:

  • Carbonated or sugary beverages
  • Gassy foods (beans, hummus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)
  • Spicy foods (depending on personal tolerance)
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Excessive supplements
  • Dairy products- for individuals who are more sensitive
  • High fiber foods (such as beans, lentils, some whole grains, seeds, broccoli)

Some runners are a lot more sensitive than others to certain foods. Some of these foods can cause digestional problems, cramping, pain, heartburn, or other sensitivities that you wouldn’t want to experience during a run. Know your personal tolerance and when to eat a pre-workout snack and meal.

Remember, all foods fit in a healthy diet in moderation and balance.

See also: What are the Best and Worst Foods for a Teenager to Eat?

Fad Diets for Sprinters

Diets like the ketogenic (“keto”) diet are very low in certain food groups. Keto diets are around 5% carbohydrates, which are a crucial component of an athlete’s eating pattern. Remember, sprinters need 50-60% carbohydrates.

Trying keto (or other diets) on a whim, or without the supervision of dietitians and health professionals, can be dangerous for teens. Typically, adolescents struggle to get enough fruits and vegetables as it is. Unapproved diets can restrict “starchy” fruits or vegetables even more and contribute to the development of a vitamin deficiency. 

There are rare cases of allergy, sensitivity, or other health problem where runners may be advised to avoid certain foods. Work closely with a sports dietitian to establish and evaluate what a healthy eating pattern looks like for you individually. Team-wide recommendations may not be enough to ensure your nutritional health. 

Foods that Cause Inflammation for Runners

There are a few foods that can cause inflammation for runners. Sprinters should keep these items in mind, although it is always good to remember that eating something is better than eating nothing at all. Start where you are and do what you can. 

As mentioned above, a sprint already creates a reaction in the body. The goal of food is to heal and fuel, so runners may want to consider avoiding inflammatory foods when possible. For example, conventional meats, as opposed to grass-fed meats, aren’t grass-fed are often increasing your exposure to pro-inflammatory compounds (i.e. omega 6 fatty acids). 

What Should Teen Sprinters Drink?

While the gold standard of hydration is water, the right sports and electrolyte drinks may have a purpose in your dietary pattern. Teenage sprinters should be mindful of added sugars and avoid them if possible. 

Drink water throughout the day and drink often during practices, meets, and long runs.

Recovery Beverages for Sprinters

Having a protein-based drink after training sessions may help improve recovery. Another aspect of recovery to keep in mind is that food is also a source of electrolytes that can replace salt and other needed vitamins, minerals, and elements. Food can replace electrolyte stores while drinks, supplements, bars, and powders should be used under dietitian direction to safely enhance what’s already being practiced in the diet. 

Start & Finish The Race Well-Hydrated

One basic way to measure hydration needs is to weigh yourself before and after the event. Weight losses of even 2% can result in decreased performance. It’s important to start and finish the event hydrated. 

Smaller athletes may be at increased risk for becoming over- or under-hydrated. A good rule of thumb for all athletes is to drink ½ -¾ cup (4-6 oz) of water every 15-20 minutes. It’s also a good idea to drink a sports or electrolyte drink every 2 hours of activity. 

As with food, a dietitian can advise you how to properly hydrate for your individual body and set of needs.  

Sprinting vs Endurance Running Nutrition

The key differences that make sprinting unique from endurance running include:

  • Short duration of competition
  • Longer recovery periods between races
  • Intense workouts 

Sprinting Training

Endurance runners train to keep a slower pace but go longer distances. Sprinters, on the other hand, participate in challenging and intense training to beat the last time in their distance — even if it’s just shaving a second or two off the time.

Sprinting Duration & Intensity

Another key difference between endurance training and sprinting is that endurance training takes a lot of time and consistent effort. Sprint training is more focused on extreme and explosive drills. Both types of running are challenging, just in different ways.  

Sprinting Recovery

According to the American Sports & Fitness Association

“Because sprinters have such a shorter workout that is more intense, they need more time to recover compared to the endurance runners who run slow enough to let their consumed calories do their part. The slower endurance runners are able to run daily with minimal recovery time.   

Nutrition goals for running can be determined by closely looking at two factors: 

  1. How fast you run
  2. How hard your body works

The more effort the body exerts and the faster the speed that a teen runs, the more calories will be burned. Proper nutrition and recovery will support a sprint runner in their personal goals. Recovery is just as important as what happens before the race, and sprinters especially need more time to recover than other types of runners. 

In Summary on Sprinters

Teen sprinters need a unique diet to fulfill their nutrition needs. Sprinters tend to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. Recovery nutrition is also a major focus for teenage sprinters. Fuel your body properly and your times will improve, you’ll feel better, you’ll be less likely to get injuries, and you’ll recover quicker.

Related Questions

What is the Best Diet for Sprinters? The best diet for sprinters is to focus on eating a high amount of calories (about 50-60% of calories) from healthy carbohydrates each day such as fruits, vegetables, grains, lowfat dairy, legumes. Avoid sugary foods and processed foods. Sprinters should also eat plenty of healthy fats such as avocados, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. Sprinters should eat every 3-4 hours during the day and plan appropriate pre-workout and post-workout snacks.

What Foods Make You Run Slower? Eating high-fiber foods, beans, fatty foods, and sugary foods may negatively affect a runner’s performance if eaten a few hours before a run. Caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, high doses of supplements, and artificial sweeteners can also make you run a lot slower.

How Can I Improve my Sprinting? A great way to improve sprinting is to properly fuel yourself before and after a run. Fuel your muscles with healthy carbohydrates 1-3 hours before a run such as oatmeal, pasta, smoothies, or fruit. Replenishing your body’s carbohydrate energy stores after a run can help you build your stores so you can run harder, faster, and longer next time. Refuel with a chicken veggie wrap, baked sweet potatoes, veggies and hummus, a PB&J, whole wheat crackers, lowfat chocolate milk, or cheese cubes and bell pepper strips.

What Drink Makes You Run Faster? Water is the best drink for sprinters. If workouts are extremely vigorous, longer than 1 hour, and you are sweating intensely then a sports drink might be necessary and beneficial. A few studies have shown that drinking something pink helps runners run faster. An interesting placebo effect, but hey- whatever works! Caffeine may also help some runners run faster, but caffeine isn’t typically recommended for most teen runners and may also make some runners run slower.

What Should a Sprinter Eat for Breakfast? A sprinter should fuel up on healthy carbohydrates (nothing refined or with too much added sugar), healthy fats, and protein for breakfast. Some of the best examples for a sprinter’s breakfast include a fruit smoothie, breakfast burritos, nut butter toast, oatmeal with fruit, or a veggie omelet with a bagel.

Do Bananas Help You Run Faster? Bananas are an excellent source of carbohydrates for running fuel and can help you run faster. They are a great running snack to eat pre-workout to fuel your runs, or post-workout to refuel your muscles.

See Also


American Sports & Fitness Association. Endurance Running Vs. Sprinting. Americansportandfitness.com. Accessed June 2021. 

Daniels C. Diet For Sprinting. Healthyeating.sfgate.com. Published December 7, 2018. 

Ellis E. How Many Calories Does My Teen Need? Eatright.org. Published October 4, 2019. 

Emily, Running Nutrition Coach. On the Go Runner’s Snacks. Instagram.com. Published June 6, 2021.  

Harvard Health Publishing. Want better exercise results in less time? Try interval training to boost your workout. Health.harvard.edu. Published April 1, 2018. 

JACKIE K, Running Dietitian. Gluten-free carbs for runners. Instagram.com. April 13, 2021. 

JACKIE K, Running Dietitian. Gluten-free carbs for runners. Instagram.com. April 24, 2021. 

Kalnes S. Sprinting Vs. Long Distance Running for Weight Loss. Livestrong.com. Published July 17, 2019. 

Koch A. The 3 Rs of Recovery Nutrition: How Protein Helps Repair and Rebuild Muscle after Working Out. Runningrdn.com. Published January 2, 2020. 

Koch A. The 3 Rs of Recovery Nutrition: Re-Hydration. Runningrdn.com. Published January 17, 2020. 

Koch A. The 3 Rs of Recovery Nutrition: Refueling Glycogen Stores (with Carbs!). Runningrdn.com. Published January 8, 2020. 

Marie S. Is keto the key to fat loss? Serenamarierd.com. Accessed June 2021. 

Samuels M. A Sprinter’s Diet. Livestrong.com. Accessed June 2021.  

Slater GJ, Sygo J, Jorgensen M. SPRINTING. Dietary Approaches to Optimize Training Adaptation and Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(2):85-94. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0273

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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