Additionally it includes a recovery nutrition plan so you can replenish your energy stores and repair muscles to prepare for your next event.
Read on to learn how to fuel for game day.
Importance of game day nutrition
As part of your game day nutrition plan, well timed meals and snacks provide energy to your muscles to help sustain your endurance throughout your competition.
Also, a good game day plan maintains blood sugar levels. It prevents light headedness, fatigue and loss of focus.
Consistently eating a healthy diet will allow you to practice and train at a higher level throughout the season.
What to eat the night before a game
The best meals to eat the night before a game should be rich in complex carbohydrate with moderate protein and healthy fat.
Generally, you want to limit foods high in fat and fiber since these slow down digestion and may reduce the amount of carbohydrates your body can store.
Additionally, steer clear of unfamiliar foods and high fat and high fiber that can cause GI upset leaving you with an upset stomach, bloating, gas and nausea.
On game day and the night before a game, choose familiar foods and those that are lower in fiber and fat. You don’t want to have an upset stomach, nausea or vomiting to worry about.
And if you’re traveling, you’ll want to check out our tips for making healthy choices at restaurants.
In addition, make sure to include extra fluids at meals so you stay on track with being hydrated.
What food should be eaten on game day
On game day foods high in carbohydrate should be eaten so that fuel stores can be filled and then topped off closer to game time. At each meal, try to make half your plate carbohydrates, and at each snack pair a carbohydrate with a protein.
The best foods for athletes to eat on game day are those that you normally eat, since you’ll know how they’ll make you feel hours later.
Breakfast for game day nutrition
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for athletes if they have a full day of eating before their competition. One of the biggest nutrition related mistakes an athlete makes is skipping breakfast. (1)
Since you have an increased energy need, they should eat energy rich and nutrient dense foods. Start off the morning with a combination of high carbohydrates, moderate protein and healthy fat.
Good game day nutrition breakfast suggestions
- Bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh or dried fruit and low fat milk
- Scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and whole wheat toast or whole grain pancake
- French toast and fresh fruit
- Last night’s leftovers
- Breakfast burrito with whole grain tortilla, egg, lean sausage and tomato salsa
- Smoothie-fresh fruit, low fat greek yogurt, milk or cherry juice
What to eat 3-4 hrs before a game
Depending on what time the game starts, don’t skimp on lunch. You should eat a hearty balanced meal, high in carbohydrates, moderate protein and low fat.
When you have 3-4 hours before your game, it’s best to eat a balanced meal that includes:
- Complex carbohydrates: Whole grains, starchy vegetables, or fruits
- Lean protein: Chicken, turkey, fish or tofu
- Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil based dressings
- Hydration: Water and electrolyte-rich beverages
Best pre game meal ideas
- Turkey sandwich with whole grain bread, avocado and fresh fruit
- Grilled chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables
- Quinoa salad with roasted veggies, tofu and a vinaigrette dressing
- Whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce, turkey meatballs and a side salad
- Baked sweet potato with black beans, salsa and a side of grilled chicken
- Brown rice stir-fry with vegetables, soybeans and tempeh
- Turkey, tuna or tofu wrap with whole grain tortilla, lettuce and veggies
- Grilled salmon with roasted carrots and brown rice
- Bagel with hummus, cucumber, tomato and a side of fresh fruit
- Oatmeal with milk, fresh berries, and a spoonful of peanut butter
- Grilled chicken sandwich with whole wheat bread, avocado and fresh fruit
You’ll want to avoid unfamiliar and high-fat, high-fiber or greasy foods that can cause discomfort or slow digestion.
What to eat 2 hours before a game
Some good pre game nutrition snack ideas
- Apple slices with almond butter
- Smoothie with banana, berries and low fat greek yogurt
- Acai bowl with granola and coconut
- Hard boiled eggs and a sports drink
- Whole grain crackers and hummus
- Rice cakes with peanut butter and jelly
- Half a turkey or ham and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread
- Grapes and string cheese
What to eat or drink one hour to game time
Right before game time, your nerves might be a little high and you also don’t want to eat anything that will sit in your stomach and not digest. Likely, you may want to drink a sports drink that you can sip as it gets closer to game time.
Also, focus on eating around 30-60 grams of easily digestible carbohydrates like pretzels, applesauce squeezes or a small orange or banana if you’ve tried those before. Continue to hydrate with at least 8 ounces of water before the game.
The best game day nutrition half time snacks
You don’t need to worry about eating during a game that lasts less than an hour. However, for activities that go beyond an hour, you should consume (either foods or sports drinks) around 30 – 60 grams of carbohydrate/hour.
Sports drink: 2-4 gulps every 15-30 minutes of a 6-8% carbohydrate drink
Easily digested, high carbohydrate: pretzels, applesauce, gummies, animal crackers
Check out our post on the best halftime snacks for even more ideas.
Best recovery food for game day
The best recovery food for game day is carbohydrates and protein with a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Eating carbohydrates replaces the fuel you used up during your game, and the protein repairs and rebuilds your muscles.
Additionally you’ll want to rehydrate to replenish your fluid and electrolytes.
The four keys (4Rs) to performance nutrition recovery
- Refuel with 0.5 gram carbohydrate per pound of body weight
- Rebuild and repair muscles with at least 20-30 grams of high quality protein
- Replenish fluid and electrolyte stores
- Rest so that your body recovers and you’ll be ready for the next activity
What not to eat on game day
On game day, it’s best to stick to foods you usually eat and avoid high fat, greasy, fried, creamy and spicy foods because these could cause you to have an upset stomach.
Try out new foods at practice and not on game day. The last thing you want to do is try a new food that causes stomach upset or GI symptoms and keeps you out of the game or unable to focus on playing.
Generally, you’ll want to use practices to find the best foods for athletic performance. Those foods that are energy rich and nutrient dense.
What should an athlete eat for all day events
For all day tournaments or multiple games within 24 hours, try to follow the general timing and meal guidelines. When that’s not possible, choose familiar, easy to digest foods and make sure to refuel as soon as the game ends.
These foods generally can be tolerated by most athletes before a game and can be used as a quick snack in between events.
Quick digesting, stomach friendly carbohydrates for snacks and between games
- Cold cereal
- Sports bars
- Granola bars
Key game day nutrition tips
1. Stay adequately hydrated.
Start your day with a bottle of water by your bed. Before you even get out of bed, drink at least 8 oz of water. Aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces throughout the day. About an hour before the game drink at least 8 oz of water or sports drink.
2. Allow plenty of time for food to digest.
3. Eat the right AMOUNT of food.
Eating enough food helps prevent hunger and low blood sugar during a game. Low blood sugar is one of the main causes of late game fatigue. You also want to be careful not to overeat because this can lead to stomach cramps, abdominal pain and nausea.
4. Eat high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat for your pre game meal.
Carbohydrates digest faster than protein or fat. Eating some protein will help to slow digestion and stabilize blood sugar to prevent low blood sugar fatigue.
5. Avoid gas producing, spicy or bulky foods.
These types of foods that are high in fiber such as fresh vegetables can cause stomach cramps, gas, diarrhea or stomach upset, especially if eaten too close to your game. You’ll also want to avoid rich, creamy and fried foods.
6. Try liquid when you don’t feel like eating
When it is less than one hour to game time or you don’t have time in between games opt for a sports drink or smoothie. For athletes too nervous to eat a meal, good options include Boost, Ensure GatorPro.
7. Eat a snack right before bedtime the night before a morning game.
This adds additional fuel for game day, especially if you’re too nervous or stressed to eat anything in the morning before your game. You can also add a small breakfast before a morning game to boost your energy stores.
8. Drink plenty of fluids (non carbonated) before an event.
Following a sports nutrition game day plan helps you eat the right foods at the right times before, during, and after a game.
It’s important to plan ahead, try new snacks and meals before game day, and listen to your body to determine what works best for you.
By fueling your body properly, you’ll be ready to perform at your best on game day.
What are your favorite game day foods?
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 22 years of experience in public health and nutrition. As a performance registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.