Despite coaches and trainers telling their athletes to “eat healthy” and the incessant “sports performance” marketing, athletes and parents are still confused by one important question: What should I eat before a game?
The pre-game meal is, without a doubt, the number one thing I get asked about by both players and their parents.
There are three components to the answer:
If you’ve waited until before the game to consider food as fuel, it’s a little bit like asking your coach to fix your slap shot right before puck drop. Fuelling takes consistency. Yes, certain foods can affect how you feel physically and your level of energy, but endurance, strength and recovery are built on consistent attention to nutrient-dense foods and hydration.
Because macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) digest at various rates, when you eat certain foods is important to avoid cramping, fatigue, and energy crashes during games/practice. Within two hours of a game/practice the focus is carbohydrates as they are your main energy source. Yet, relying on pre-game candy, donuts, or juice can result in a surge of energy followed by a drastic crash before the third period. Small amounts of lean protein (chicken, fish, shrimp) can be tolerated by some athletes, but they are secondary to carbohydrates. Protein is an inefficient and ineffective source of energy for the body! Fats are another source of energy, but they are the slowest to digest. Dairy, fried foods, and burgers can leave athletes feeling full, slow, fatigued, or cramped at the beginning of the game.
Every athlete is unique when it comes to fueling before games, especially if nervousness is a factor.
All important considerations, but it still doesn’t answer the question, what should I eat before a game, right?
The focus should be carbohydrates within two hours of game time, a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates is beneficial:
- Oranges, kiwi, grapes
- Roasted sweet/Russet potatoes
- ½ peanut butter and jam or turkey sandwich
- Breakfast “cookies”
- ½ grilled chicken wrap
- Farro/rice/quinoa with chicken
Keep in mind, how they’ve fuelled all day and all week will play a larger role in their overall energy, endurance, and strength. Although it may seem like our growing athletes are eating consistently, I’d estimate that 90% of the athletes I work with aren’t consuming enough nutrients to match their level of activity and growth.
Questions about pre-game fuel specifically for your athlete? Wondering if they’re meeting their nutritional needs? Want the breakfast “cookie” recipe? Reach out to me on RockPerformance.net.