What to Eat Before, During, and After Game Day

The Importance of Fueling on Game Day

It’s game day, aka the best day of the week. You have trained hard all week and now it is time to dominate on the field. You must be eating correctly to ensure your performance is at the highest level! Here are some tips on what to eat before a game to ensure you perform and feel your best on the field.

To ensure your best performance, focus on fueling these four areas so you know what to eat before a game:

  1. Fueling up with quality meals and snacks
  2. The timing of your meals and snacks
  3. Choosing foods that are easy to digest
  4. Making sure you are choosing hydrating food and beverages

What to Eat Before a Game

We have all had those pre-game jitters. I totally understand that your stomach might be doing back-flips before the big game, but it is essential you are fueling up before your game to maximize performance. I recommend consuming a “hard-intensity” or game day performance plate. 

With a game day performance plate, the focus should be on simple carbohydrates! Carbohydrates are going to be your main source of energy and you need lots of energy before a game!

For a pre-game meal, chose foods that are low in fiber (avoid broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) and simple foods like white rice, lean protein, and cooked veggies. Additionally, I would recommend raw veggies, onion, and garlic if you have a sensitive stomach.

If you really struggle with fueling before your game, you might want to experiment with having a smoothie before the game as a source of fuel. Liquid digests faster/easier than solid food and a smoothie might be easier on an uneasy stomach.  

Game Day Snacks

While it is important to eat and properly time your breakfast, lunch, and dinner on game days, it is equally as important to be sure you are fueling with snacks before the game, during halftime, and after the game to fuel, recover properly, and increase athletic performance. 

It is recommended that game-day snacks are eaten about one hour before the game, during halftime, and no more than 30 minutes after the game ends. 

Pre-Game Snack Ideas

For your pre-game top-off fuel, snacks should be eaten about one hour before the game and should include 8-12 ounces of a sports drink or electrolyte beverage and between 30-50 grams of carbohydrates (carbohydrates from the electrolyte beverage count in the carbohydrate total).

Pre-game snacks are extremely important because they allow you to top off your stored energy in your muscles (muscle glycogen).

Examples of Pre-Game Snacks

  1. 8-12 ounces sports drink or electrolyte beverage + 2 dates or 1 banana + 1 tbsp peanut butter
  2. 8-12 ounces sports drink or electrolyte beverage + Kind Bar 
  3. 1 12 oz glass of water + 2 healthy cookie dough protein bites
  4. 1 12 oz glass of water with 1/2 peanut butter and honey sandwich

It is important to limit fat and fiber in your pre-game top-off. These nutrients take longer for your body to digest and your body should not be focused on digesting during your game. It should be focused on winning!

Half-Time Snacks

Half-time snacks are meant to replenish your energy stores and provide an additional quick energy top-off. Therefore, you want to focus on snacks made up of simple carbohydrates that provide 25-50 grams of carbohydrates. It is also important to replenish lost electrolytes and rehydrate with adequate fluid during this time. 

Examples of Half-Time Snacks

  1. Half of a 20-ounce sports drink + 1 handful of grapes
  2. 1 electrolyte tablet in 10-12 ounces of water + 1 handful of dried mango
  3. ½ liquid IV pack in 10 ounces of water + 1 handful of fruit snacks 

Post-Game Snack Ideas

Post-game snacks should include mainly both carbohydrates and protein to immediately replenish glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates in muscles) and rebuild and repair muscle. Your post-game snacks should contain about 40-60 grams of carbohydrates and 20-25 grams of protein.

  1. 16 ounces of chocolate milk + 1 healthy cookie dough protein bite 
  2. Blueberry vanilla smoothie 
  3. Drinkable yogurt + 1 banana 

Avoiding Bloating on Game Day

Game day fuel should focus on carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen and give you the energy you need to perform your best, and also include protein to help rebuild and repair muscles that are broken down during training. 

It can often be challenging to get in enough fuel on game day because of nerves that sneak in for the big game. Even though you are nervous, what to eat before a game is still important, and getting in the correct amount/type of fuel is important.

As mentioned above, these nerves may cause you to lose your appetite, which makes it more challenging for you to fuel properly. Choosing foods that are lower in volume but higher in nutrients is going to help you fuel without making you feel overly full. A lot of my athletes opt for an energy-loaded smoothie if they can’t stomach a full pre-game meal!

Nerves may also make it more difficult for your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract also known as gut) to function correctly and may cause bloating and GI distress. It is important to find foods you can fuel with that don’t result in these symptoms and keep you fueled! No one wants bloating in the 80th minute right?

If this happens to you, I recommend trying a “low FODMAP” diet on game days. Low fodmap diets include foods that are successful in reducing symptoms for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome but have also proven to be beneficial for reducing GI distress in athletes

Choose Low Fiber Foods to Avoid Bloating

list of low fodmap foods
Low Fodmap Food List from
https://dietingwell.com/low-fodmap-foods-list/

Here are some healthy, easy-to-digest, low fodmap-friendly, snacks containing both carbohydrates and protein.

  1. 1 cup strawberries and two protein bites
  2. Sliced orange and 2 slices cold-cut turkey
  3. Smoothies

Hydration

Proper hydration is just as important as snacking on game day. At just 2% dehydration, you will see a decrease in your performance. Additionally, sweat loss is also more likely to increase when playing in hot temperatures, making it crucial for you to replace electrolytes such as sodium and potassium that are lost in sweat. Read more about athlete hydration tips here!

As an athlete, it is also equally as important to hydrate the night before and include sodium in your fluids to help set you up for successful hydration on game day!

Below is a guide to help you stay hydrated throughout the game day:

  • 2-3 hours before the game: 16- 32 ounces of water 
  • 1 hour before the game: 8-12 ounces of fluids with electrolytes
  • Half-time: 8-12 ounces of fluids with electrolytes
  • Post-game: 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost (<30 mins after the game( 

Also, if possible, athletes are encouraged to hydrate with about 4 ounces of fluid every fifteen minutes during the game. 

One of the most beneficial ways for replenishing lost electrolytes and helping maintain proper hydration is to individualize your own sports drink! 

To do so (or use the recipe in the picture!):
  1. Divide a 20 oz bottle of a sports drink (like Gatorade or Powerade) into half
  2. Mix Gatorade or Powerade with 10oz  water 
  3. Add about ⅛ – ¼ teaspoon of salt 
  4. Stir well and enjoy!

Including all of these tips into your normal game day routine will be sure to boost your energy levels and performance on the field!

Conclusion 

Proper nutrition can have a big impact on your game day performance. Including the proper amount of carbohydrates, snacks and hydration will ensure you have high energy levels and maximize your performance.

Nutrition on game day is very individualized but I hope this blog has given you a starting point on your game days.

If you want an individualized game day fueling plan, apply for 1:1 Nutrition Coaching with one of our Performance Dietitians! We can help you craft an individualized plan to achieve your goals and optimize your fueling and performance.

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