Best Pre-Game Meal for Athletes

Pre-game fueling is one of the first places I recommend athletes start on their fueling journey. What you do before (and after) your game can directly impact your performance on the field. You don’t want to risk choosing the wrong option that leaves you feeling sluggish and heavy during your game (or even worse, with GI upset)!

Understanding what to eat before your game is essential in optimizing performance and maximizing energy levels during competition.

In this blog, I review the components of a good pre-game meal and share some of our RBSN athletes’ favorite meals.

Importance of Eating Before Your Game

Athletes know that preparation is essential to perform their best during a game. An important aspect of pre-game preparation is fueling your body with the correct nutrients at the right time. Fueling with the right foods provides you the energy to perform at your best!

Eating foods high in carbohydrates will allow you to have stamina and quick decision-making throughout the entire game or competition. Not only does this elevate energy levels but it can help prevent muscle cramping and injury.

What you are drinking pre-game is also important. Dehydration can cause fatigue, cramping, and decreased performance. Drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich beverages, like sports drinks, before your game to ensure proper hydration.

Hydration products you can use pre-game

What to Include to Make the Best Pre-Game Meal

Before we get into examples of pre-game meals, you need to understand the components of an ideal pre-game meal.

No matter where you choose to fuel up before a game, you should include a combination of carbohydrates, protein, easy-to-digest color, and anti-inflammatory fats. In the Performance Plate Method, I recommend building your “Game Day” plate with ¼ color (fruit and veggies), ¼ protein, and ½ carbohydrates. I will break out the parts of this “Game Day” plate below.

Load Up on Pre-Game Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are essential before your game. When you eat easy-to-digest carbohydrates, your body turns them into glucose, which helps fuel your muscles during your game. If you don’t eat enough carbs before a game, you might get tired faster and not be able to give it your all. Making sure to add carbohydrates before the game will help you have enough energy to play your best till the very end.

Include Moderate Protein

When you are out on the field, your muscles can get tired, and even get tiny injuries. Eating foods with protein before your game can help your muscles fix these injuries and leave you feeling stronger. Protein can also help you feel full and not get hungry during the game.

Choose Low Fiber Veggies

Vegetables are healthy, but when they have lots of fiber they can be hard to digest and may cause stomach problems during sports. Eating low-fiber vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, and tomatoes can provide essential nutrients without causing stomach issues. These vegetables also contain high amounts of water, which can help keep you hydrated during the game. 

When Should You Be Eating a Pre-Game Meal

In general, I recommend eating a pre-game meal 3-4 hours before the game. Eating too close to the game can cause stomach discomfort or cramping while playing. 

If you have a morning game, try to eat a pre-game breakfast at least 1-2 hours before the game. If the game is in the afternoon or evening, you can have a bigger meal two to three hours before the game. Do not forget to stay hydrated! 

Remember, a balanced meal with carbs, protein, and low-fiber veggies can give you the energy you need for the game, help your muscles recover, and keep your tummy happy during the game. 

Examples of Pre-Game Meals

Are you looking for some ideas for what to eat before your next big game? As an athlete, it’s essential to fuel your body with the right nutrients to perform at your best. Your pre-game meal can make a big difference in your energy levels, stamina, and overall performance. Here are some examples of pre-game meals that can help you power through your game and stay at the top of your game:

At Home

Looking for some at-home meal inspiration? These are examples that you can easily make at home to prepare you for your next game. 

At home is the easiest place to build out your pre-game meal. You feel confident and in control in your kitchen. Here are examples of pre-game meals that follow the above fueling guidelines you can make at home!

Grilled Salmon with Squash and White Rice: 

This meal contains anti-inflammatory fats, easy-to-digest carbohydrates, and complete protein to fuel you up before your game. This meal is a great option 3-4 hours before your game.

Pro-tip: Make your salmon in the air fryer! It is amazing. 

From America’s Test Kitchen

Loaded Overnight Oats:

You will love these energy-packed and easy-to-digest overnight oats before a morning game.

Dining Hall

No matter if you are pre-game fueling at the dining hall, at home, or in a restaurant (which we will talk about next), you want to keep it simple and as close to the above fueling guidelines as possible. You want easy-to-digest carbohydrates, low-fiber veggies, and lean protein.

Here are some of these foods that are commonly found at the dining hall so you can mix and match them to build your pre-game meal.

Energy-Rich Dining Hall Carbohydrates

  • White Rice
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Cereal
  • White Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes

Lean Dining Hall Proteins

  • Chicken Breast
  • Salmon
  • Ground turkey meatballs
  • Grilled Tofu
  • Turkey Breast

Low Fiber Dining Hall Fruit and Veggies

  • Cooked zucchini
  • Cooked carrots
  • Cooked squash
  • Cooked bell peppers
  • Cooked tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Banana
  • Mango
  • Watermelon
  • Oranges/Clementines
  • Pineapple
A dining hall meal from one of our PFC athletes!

I recommend choosing different foods from the above categories and combining them on your plate to build out a game day plate.

Restaurant Eating

Eating a pre-game meal at a restaurant can be challenging but is often inevitable during your season.

When eating at a restaurant, I recommend keeping it simple and mimicking your at-home fueling habits as much as possible. Here are the three recommended pre-game meals from nationwide restaurants.

1. Starbucks is a great option for your pre-game meal. This is a restaurant I recommend a lot to my athletes. Starbucks does a great job of being consistent with their food preparation so you know what you will get. Here are three pre-game breakfast options I recommend

2. A grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A is always a good option before a game. I recommend adding a fruit parfait on the side! 

Chick-fil-A is a great pre-game option on the road!

3. Panera Bread is another nationwide chain that has relatively good options before a game. I recommend a sandwich, like this Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT (without bacon), paired with one of their yogurt-based smoothies. 

Conclusion

What you eat before your game can positively or negatively impact your game performance.

To maximize your energy levels and optimize your performance, include foods rich in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and moderate in anti-inflammatory fats in your pre-game meal. Avoid foods too high in fat or fiber since these nutrients take longer to digest.

No matter if you are eating at home or on the road, you want to keep your pre-game meal simple and include foods you are familiar with.

If you are looking for more guidance on how to optimize your pre-game fueling, we offer 1:1 coaching for athletes and active women using easy and simple nutrition. We can help you with game day meal and snack ideas, hydration strategies, and fueling timelines for morning, afternoon, and evening games. Check out our programs and level up your game day performance!

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