Eating the right foods before a game – and enjoying them at the right time – can help athletes compete at the highest level possible. With proper pre game food, you’ll never find yourself feeling sluggish, heavy, or uncomfortable. Remember, you need more calories than the average sedentary person does, so there’s no need to worry that good pre game meals will have an adverse effect on your waistline. Even though many of the best pregame meals contain lots of carbs, they’re used for fuel and not stored as fat.
Timing Your Pre Game Meals
When you think about pregame meals, you might be thinking only of the food you’ll be eating right before an event. The truth is that there are two very important pre-game meals to consider: The pre game meal that takes place the evening before you compete as well as food eaten shortly before the event begins. Before we talk about what goes into the best game day meals for athletes, let’s take a closer look at timing. As it turns out, when you eat has an impact, either helping or hindering your performance.
Eating The Day Before You Compete
The body takes an average of 24 to 48 hours to fully stock the muscles with glycogen, which is why your pre-game meals should begin well before game day. Take a look at a pro athlete’s eating schedule, and you’ll probably see that carb loading begins at least a day before every big event. In some cases, athletes start fueling their muscles with carbs several days before an important competition.
According to sports nutrition experts from Mayo Clinic, you should start carb loading by treating yourself to pregame meals three or four days before a big event, and you should ensure that each meal or snack contains about 70 percent carbohydrates. Furthermore, you should try to eat four grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight on the day before the event, meaning if you weigh 150 pounds, you want to aim for an intake of about 600 grams of carbohydrates.
Eating the Day of the Competition
You know your own digestive system better than anyone, so be sure to use this knowledge to your own best advantage. We’ll get into specific food options shortly but first, here are strategies for timing pre-game meals so that you have plenty of energy and no digestive discomfort.
If you have very little time to top up between events, then you’re going to want something that digests very quickly. A little bit of watermelon or cantaloupe might be ideal, or you might like the idea of eating an orange or some grapes. A handful of pretzels, a few crackers, or a small bagel may be ideal. Sports energy chews and gels might not be the best-tasting foods, but they do deliver a powerful nutritional punch in a very short amount of time without contributing to discomfort. If you’re in a bind, consider having a few gummi bears or Swedish fish, or have some sports drink sweetened with sugar.
If your game or match takes place first thing in the morning, within just a couple hours of waking, you’ll want to make sure that you had a high-carbohydrate snack right before bed. This is always recommended as part of carbohydrate loading, but it’s even more important when you don’t have time for a full breakfast as it ensures that muscles have plenty of stored glycogen. In the morning, as soon as you wake, treat yourself to another high-carbohydrate snack to top up your tank. You’ll want to make sure that your choice is easy to digest, and you’ll want to finish up at least 30 minutes to an hour before game time depending on how well you tend to digest food.
If you have three or four hours before an event, you can enjoy a full pre-game meal, preferably leaving a minimum of two hours for digestion. Again, the best pre game meals for the day of an event are going to be light, easy to digest, and highly focused on carbohydrates.
Even if you have a big appetite, keep your pregame meal small in comparison to your usual intake. Try to eat no more than 1,000 calories, and be sure to avoid anything that has lots of onions, peppers, or hot spices since these can lead to an upset stomach at game time. Additionally, you’ll want to focus on lower fiber choices since lots of veggies, beans, nuts, oatmeal, and other high-fiber foods can bring on the urge to have a bowel movement at the most inopportune time, i.e. right in the middle of your game!
Hydration as Part of Pre-Game Nutrition
In a perfect world, we’d all be well-hydrated 24/7. Unfortunately, it might not be possible to keep our hydration at the ideal level all around the clock, particularly with demands from work, school, and constraints on bathroom use. Your body will thank you by treating you to its best possible performance though, if you focus on getting your hydration up for a few days before the game, and continue hydrating on the day of the game. At a bare minimum, be sure to drink more fluid than usual on the day before your game, and consume between 14 and 20 ounces of fluid two hours prior to the event. Sip during the event as well, as often as you can.
Water is the perfect drink for hydration, however intense play, games that last longer than an hour, and games that take place in hot environments call for sports drinks with electrolytes as well as plain water. Be sure to rehydrate after the game, too; it’ll help you recover faster and get back to training for the next event without a hitch.
Suggested Pre Game Meals for Athletes
Since the best pregame meals contain mostly carbohydrates, you’re going to want to save your favorite steaks and other high-protein meals for average training days. You do want to consume a little bit of fat and protein with your meals, but you want this to be digested quickly and easily so that you aren’t left feeling heavy or suffering from a serious case of indigestion. With fast-digesting carbs in mind, here are our suggestions for pre-game meals that fuel your body for optimal performance.
The Night Before Your Game
Treat yourself to a great meal the night before your game, at your usual dinner time. You have lots of options! Just be sure that this pre-game meal includes all of the following:
- 6 to 8 ounces of lean protein such as chicken, fish, turkey, or your favorite vegan option
- At least 2 cups of vegetables
- 1.5 cups of high-carbohydrate food such as pasta, rice, or potatoes
Have a high-carbohydrate snack shortly before bed. Toast, a bagel, or your favorite energy bar should do the trick.
What to Eat on Game Day
When you have between one and two hours before your game, consider any combination of the following items. These make a fantastic pregame meal that’s both enjoyable and easy to digest. Be sure to eat enough so that you meet your chosen calorie target for your body size and energy needs.
Low-fiber cereal with milk or non-dairy milk of your choice
Low-fiber cereal bars
Low-fiber fruit juices
Sports bars and nutrition bars, any low-fiber options you like
Toast with peanut butter or another nut butter
Bagel with low-fat cream cheese
Pasta with marinara sauce and a little bit of lean protein, i.e. chicken, fish, or turkey
White rice with a little bit of chicken and tomato
Wrap or burrito made with a little bit of chicken or cheese, minus lots of fatty additions like sour cream and guacamole
Waffles or pancakes with maple syrup
Last but not least, never try a new food before a game. The best pregame meals are ultimately those that agree with your system, give you plenty of energy, and leave you feeling satisfied and ready to take on your opponents.