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21 High Protein Foods (from Plants) for Young Athletes

There are many high protein foods for young athletes. Learn about 21 of my favorite protein foods (from plants).

21 Protein Foods All Young Athletes Should Try so they have variety in their diet and meet their performance requirements.

As a pediatric dietitian and author of a sports nutrition book, it’s not uncommon to care for young athletes in my private practice.

Once, I counseled a swimmer who was a picky eater. She didn’t like any meat or eggs, and was allergic to milk.

It was challenging for her to eat enough protein throughout the day with these limitations. My job was to help her discover protein foods she liked and could tolerate.

You might be surprised to see the list of protein foods I gave to her: a bowl of peas for a snack, cooked quinoa at lunch, and nuts and dried fruit for recovery.

Truth bomb: There are several delicious protein foods athletes can use as part of a healthy diet plan.

While the obvious sources come to mind, such as meat, eggs, and milk, there are many more protein foods available.

Why is Protein Important for Young Athletes?

Protein is an important nutrient for the growing athlete, as it supplies the building blocks for overall growth (including muscle development), helps muscles repair after intense exercise like pre-season training camp and regular, weekly training, and even has a role in appetite regulation.

Of course, other health benefits exist, including a key role in immunity.

Protein is a nutrient we need each day; our bodies don’t make it, nor do we store it. We need to eat it daily, and ideally, space it evenly throughout the day to get the most benefit.

While you might think your athlete doesn’t get enough protein, studies indicate most young athletes get plenty of protein in their diets, with some research suggesting consumption rates of up to two to three times the daily requirement.

Protein Foods for the Young Athlete

Animal products such as milk, yogurt, eggs, fish, meat and poultry are excellent sources of protein.

They are efficiently absorbed and utilized by the body. If your athlete is vegetarian or not big on animal sources of protein, you have plant foods to fill in the gaps.

Plant foods generally come packaged with fiber, which can help with fullness and satiety, as well as regular bowel movements.

Plant foods also tend to be either low in fat, or, if they contain a source of fat, it’s the healthy type, such as omega-3 fats.

Last, plant foods are nutrient-rich. In addition to protein, they contain other nutrients, such as vitamin E, magnesium and B vitamins.


Try New Protein Foods

It’s important to be aware of all protein options so athletes can build variety in their diet. You wouldn’t want your athlete to only eat hamburgers or cheese everyday!

Stretch and train your athlete’s palate to eat a variety of protein sources.

Add some of the following protein sources to meals and snacks. Not only will protein variety blossom, your athlete will amplify his or her nutrient consumption, as well.

21 Protein Foods All Young Athletes Should Try so they have variety in their diet and meet their performance requirements.

21 Plant-Based Protein Foods

From soy foods to seeds and nuts, there are many plant-based protein foods for the young athlete!

FoodProtein Content (in grams)
Black beans8 g/cup
Pumpkin seeds35 g/cup
Peanuts35 g/cup
Sunflower seeds27 g/cup
Buckwheat22 g/cup
Tofu22 g per half cup
Lentils18 g/cup
Chickpea pasta14 g per half cup, cooked
Edamame13 g/cup
Peas, green11 g/cup
Amaranth9 g/cup
Soymilk8 g/cup
Quinoa8 g/cup
Soybeans13 g/cup
Almonds6 g/ounce
Broccoli6 g/cup
Corn5 g/cup
Asparagus5 g/cup
Cashews5 g/ounce
Peanut butter7 g/2 tablespoons
Potato8 g/large (3” to 4.5” diameter)

*USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28

Need more resources for your child athlete?

Check out my book, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete.

Register for my online program: Eat Like a Champion Sports Nutrition Course for Young Athletes

Read Fast & Nutritious Breakfasts for Young Athletes

Read Fuel Up! Dinner Recipes for Young Athletes

Grab my FREE snack ideas for teens!

Get the big picture and read The Young Athlete: Ultimate Guide to Nutrition.

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