Is there a Perfect Diet for Young Athletes? - We talk to the Founder

Is there a Perfect Diet for Athletic Performance in young athletes ?

It is fair to say that what constitutes the perfect diet for an active and improved performance is a topic with many variables and certainly a cause for much debate in the fitness world.

However one mother, turned business owner, through her own extensive and collaborative research believes she has identified a winning nutritional formula specifically for young athletes. It is not only teeming with health benefits but perhaps also holds the key to vastly improving sport performance.

Marina Wegorek, founder of ProYouth Nutrition, the brand behind the what's been deemed as UK’s first protein bar specifically developed for young athletes and active children, worked closely with Applied Sciences Practitioners to develop the snack range under an Innovation Banner. Working with dedicated team Sports and Exercise Scientists, Nutritionist and Academia Research support Marina sought support to aid her product development. 

As a result of her success, over the coming months Marina worked with a range of leading applied sports and exercise scientists, life science practitioners and nutritional experts. Her quest was to develop and build her own understanding of the human body, with a specific focus on the health benefits of nutrients, how those nutrients correlate with each other and get absorbed within the digestive system.

Marina says: Today, research interventions imposing significant diet manipulation are limited in the youth sector due to the ethical considerations related to the potential negative impacts on the growth and maturation processes associated with younger individuals. 

“Our focus was not to simply look at the short term life window of an athlete during their childhood but also to understand how their food choices can impact their later lives into adulthood. 

“Vast amounts of studies have been conducted on the role of macronutrients and micronutrients and how, when digested, they can improve and support sport performance. By taking and inputting these from our own work we were to apply a scientific and nutritional lens to formulate our products.”

Nutrition is individual to each person based on multiple variants. These include but are not limited to factors such as age, gender, weight, genetic makeup, metabolic rate, activity, hormone function and stress. These are all far too many variants to be considered when conducting a research outcome study.

Having had digestive problems herself in the past, Marina looked to the human body and its digestive properties as the foundation of her research and therefore the basis of her product development. She studied the way her own body and moods reacted to different types of food.

It came as no surprise to Marina that certain food groups were crucial to anyone looking to up their fitness game with carbohydrates and protein coming top of the list. 

Existing research by the National Centre of Biotechnology Information (NCBI) into the main role of carbohydrates in physical activity found this food group proves most effective in providing energy, and protein necessary for cellular functioning, as well as synthesis and repair of tissues, which is crucial for athletic performance.

The body can store carbohydrates in the muscles and liver as ‘glycogen’, and use these stores as the main source of fuel during physical activity. 

“Whilst the key food groups were an important factor, it was important to know differences between adults and children nutritional needs,” Marina said. 

The research by the NCBI suggests that by topping up the glycogen stores, athletes can enhance exercise performance as reductions in muscle glycogen content correspond with increasing levels of fatigue. 

However young athletes have been shown to store less glycogen than adults during prolonged exercise. Due to their lower glycogen stores, young athletes are likely to experience accelerated rates of fatigue. This accelerated fatigue is a result of the body’s inability to maintain sufficient blood glucose levels to meet a young athlete’s elevated glucose needs in the brain compared to adults.

The NCBI recommends for young athletes that at least 50% of young athletes diet should be in the form of carbohydrate (or between 3 and 8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass dependent primarily on exercise intensity). This is often overlooked during competitive sports at this age. Furthermore, young people cannot absorb large amounts of food and it is therefore suggested that regular top up of carbohydrates is beneficial. 

 “It became evident that whilst carbohydrates and proteins remain important ingredients in any fitness diet, what most fail to consider is the type of carb or protein that are being used for sporting activity – Marina says.

“I learnt from the Applied Sciences practitioners that it is confirmed in scientific research when the body ingests refined sugar, it has a high insulin response in order to remove the glucose from the blood which often results in sugar low which can result in a roller coaster effect. Long term impact of this is eventually the body becomes resistant to insulin and more and more is needed to reduce the glucose from the blood. 

By studying the long-term impact of artificial sweeteners, I found that they could confuse the brain cells with the sudden bursts of ‘excitotoxin’, a rush that sugar creates. In 2015, Head of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Host-Microbiome Interaction Research Group, Elinav and Weizmann colleague Prof. Eran Segal made headlines in November 2015 with results of the first phase of their groundbreaking Personalized Nutrition Project. One of their first work that was published was on harmful effects of artificial sweeteners. They studied this particularly due to the known association between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and overweight and diabetes. What they demonstrated through their extensive research study is that sweeteners can alter composition and the functions of the gut bacteria in a detrimental way that can induce symptoms of other uncommunicable diseases like type-two diabetes.   

This was further reiterated during Marina's work with the practitioners where she learnt about the prevalence of high performing sports people and type-two diabetes - which came as no surprise to her.

“Therefore it was important for me to be using ingredients that had simple sugars with low glycaemic index” 

“Young people have lower microbiome stability than their fully-grown counterparts, which ultimately means they have less energy stores and take longer to build them. 

“This ‘biome’ is still developing in children, which affects and alters the way they can internally absorb key micronutrients and also, which proteins they can break down most effectively.

“To maximise sporting performance, the diet of an aspiring young athlete must be healthy and balanced. It must not only contain sufficient amounts of both micro and macronutrient but also ensure the correct vitamins and types of protein consumed. 

“Consumed in the wrong forms, amounts of combinations, some protein such as casein, does little to enhance performance and in some combinations can actually reduce it, especially in children, who already have limited space when it comes to energy reserves.”

Seeking further expert direction, Marina looked to the Senior Food Technologists and Nutrition expert from London South Bank University London’s Agri Food Innovation Clinic (LAFIC).

The educational body explained that there is much comparison of various proteins (animal, plant, whey, casein) in sport, and their effects on the human body. They explained to Marina that Whey contains more molecules than just proteins and it is potentially these that improve absorption, along with other nutrients. 

Whey comes out top as the most efficient source of protein for younger age groups, primarily because it is the most easily absorbed by their developing microbiomes. 

More specifically, Whey helps protect the Vitamin B12, which is an unstable yet powerful vitamin, poorly absorbed by our guts but has tremendous benefits from a performance perspective. 

Speaking about micronutrients, Marina says: “Vitamin B12 helps oxygen flow into red bloods cell. The human body however can’t naturally produce this, which is the reason we often see some sports elites take B12 shots before events.

“This is further supported by the role of Copper which helps with Iron Transport snd is also a mineral that is linked to reducing oxidative stress. When athletes perform at high intensity, their bodies tend to go through greater use of oxygen which strains the oxygen flow into their bodies. Thus the use of Copper can be beneficial for the athletes,

Marina used the extensive work conducted by LAFIC to differentiate her product line for the market. There was macro and micro nutritional analysis from external laboratories, advice, research and evidence regarding key functions of specific nutrients within the formulation of a snack bar to maximise performance.

ProYouth Nutrition did a soft launch of their range of nutritionally dense snack bars at the end of 2019. Using the information gathered from her research journey, Marina created a protein bar clinically proven to enhance athletic performance in children. 

Informed by her findings, Marina’s snack bar formula includes:

  • Protein (11%) for growth and maintenance of muscle
  • Copper (34%) for energy yielding and glucose metabolism
  • Vitamin B12 (45%) for reduction of tiredness and fatigue
  • Phosphorus (17%), Magnesium (16%), Potassium (19%) and Manganese (23%) which are key for energy production, reduction of fatigue, provide electrolyte balance in helping the body’s hydration and iron transport

Additionally these ingredients also have been proven to aid: 

  • Maintenance of bones and teeth
  • Muscular and neurological function
  • Maintenance of blood pressure
  • Healthy bones and teeth
  • Maintenance of skin and hair pigment
  • Metabolism of fatty acids
  • Gut microbiome stability vital for nutritional absorption of this age group

Under guidance of LAFIC expert the above health claims made about the ingredients of ProYouth Nutrition products have been cross referenced with the relevant regulatory bodies.

These are available to buy via


Marina Wegorek