When game day comes, knowing what to eat before a game can mean that you’ll be well fueled and won’t be running on empty, especially at the end of the game.
Athletes who skip meals and snacks before a game may feel sluggish, distracted and unable to perform at their best.
One meal before a game won’t make up for lack of fuel and energy from underfueling on most days.
So, you should develop a performance nutrition plan to eat well and refuel your energy stores every day.
However, what you eat before a game does impact your performance and you’ll want to zero in on nutrition and hydration on game day.
Read on for some practical tips on what to eat before a game.
What to eat before a game for the most energy
For the most energy, you should eat carbohydrates before a game. Since carbohydrates digest quickly and are the primary fuel source for your activity, your pre game meal should be at least 60% carbohydrate.
This will help to maximize fuel storage ahead of your game.
Right before the game, “quick carbs” that are highly digestible will top off your energy stores and provide a ready source of energy. (1) Check out our post on healthy snacks for athletes for more ideas.
Quick carbs that are highly digestible will top off your energy stores and provide a ready source of energy.
High carbohydrate foods that work well for most athletes
- Cold cereal
- Graham crackers
- Sports bar
- Granola bar
- Low fat greek yogurt
- Whole grain pretzels
- Whole wheat bread
When should you eat before a game
Before a game you should eat at a pre-game meal at least 3-4 hours before game time. (2) This allows time to digest so that you don’t have food left in your stomach, since this can cause cramping, nausea and sometimes vomiting.
The best timing for a pre game meal is at least 3-4 hours before game time. This gives your body time to digest and fuel your energy stores.
The closer you get to game time, the more you’ll want to reach for highly and quickly digestible foods. Keep snacks in your locker, backpack or gear bag so they’re within reach when it’s time for a snack or mini meal.
The best timing for eating is different for each athlete.
Eating before a game helps to keep athletes from feeling hungry, sluggish and unfocused during a game. Also, it tops off energy stores to ensure that your muscles have the energy they need to keep your body moving during your game.
General guidelines for what to eat before a game and when
|Hours before||Calories||Grams carbohydrate/lb body weight|
|3-4 hours before||300-600 calories||2+ grams carbs/lb body weight|
|2 hours before||200-500 calories||1 gram carb/lb body weight|
|1 hour before||100-300 calories||0.5 grams carb/lb body weight|
Ideas for what to eat before a game
3-4 hours before a game
- Turkey sandwich, fresh fruit, carrots, baked chips
- Grilled chicken, brown rice, steamed veggies
- Whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs and side salad
- Burrito bowl with tofu, veggies, light on guacamole
- French toast made with whole wheat bread, lean sausage, fresh fruit
2-3 hours before a game
- Whole grain cereal, low fat milk
- Low fat greek yogurt, granola and fresh berries
- Bagel with peanut or nut butter and jelly
- Sports drinks, energy bar
- String cheese, whole grain crackers, grapes
- Hummus and pita bread
1 hour or less before a game
- Low fat greek yogurt
- Dried fruit
- Sports drink
- Granola bar
- Animal crackers
- Goldfish crackers
What to drink before a game?
Before a game athletes should drink water, an electrolyte drink or a sports drink. Athletes need to be well hydrated prior to game time to prevent dehydration.
Losing too much fluid without replacing it will impact your performance, focus and overall health. Make sure you know the signs of dehydration and have a plan for hydrating.
Start out the day drinking at least 8 ounces before breakfast. Then fill up a water bottle and keep it in your backpack so you can sip water throughout the day. Make sure to have fluids at all meals so that you can meet your fluid needs.
Before exercise, drink at least 16 ounce of fluid 1-2 hours before game time.
On game day, you should make nutrition and hydration a priority. Check out our post on game day nutrition for an overall plan for fueling before, during and after a game.
What pre game snacks will you try?
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 20 years in public health and nutrition experience. As a performance 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.