Whether you’re a full-time athlete competing and training constantly, or a young contestant trying to get into a good routine, eating right is vital for your success. Nutrition is a full-time gig for all athletes, as it can make or break your game, race, or competition.
But it doesn’t have to be a hassle, either. Here’s an easy breakdown of what athletes should eat before a game, when they should eat, and what to do after the event is over.
The Night Before or 4+ Hours Before
Several hours before a game, you want to load up on carbs and protein. Eating the night before your event gives your body plenty of time to digest what you eat. However, you shouldn’t try anything new or eat high-fat foods like milk or ice cream—those can still have a negative effect on your game, even if there’s plenty of time in between. Nothing sours a mood like waking up with an upset stomach.
Nutritionists recommend a bigger meal with plenty of fluids like water for what to eat before a game. Your plate should be about half starches, a quarter protein, and a quarter non-starch vegetables. Pasta, rice, potatoes, grilled chicken, sandwiches, pork chops, green beans, and asparagus are all great options. Mexican foods are a popular choice, just stay away from high-fat dips like guacamole and sour cream.
1-2 Hours Before
If your game is earlier in the morning, you may wake up with a couple hours before your competition. Or maybe your game is in the evening, and you won’t have time to eat dinner but don’t want to go hungry. What athletes should eat at this time is basically a smaller version of their night-before meal.
If it’s later in the day, choose something starch-based, like crackers, bread, or bananas, and has some protein. Have a smaller portion so you don’t feel your snack sloshing around in your stomach during the event. If you’re eating breakfast, try eggs with toast, a bagel topped with turkey, or a smoothie with protein powder. And drink plenty of water.
Avoid any high-fiber foods this close to the game. While fiber is generally good for your system, having it too soon before intense exercise can cause gas and bloating. Save foods like broccoli, cauliflower, beans, brussel sprouts, or cereal for later.
For some quick and smaller options, try granola bars, string cheese, greek yogurt, or protein smoothie pouches.
60 Minutes Before
What an athlete should eat before a game will differ greatly from person to person. Some people may want to eat 2 hours before and nothing else to avoid having food in their stomachs. Others might be hungry close to the start of the game and need to eat more. If the previous meals weren’t enough, you can have something small that your body can quickly digest.
Peanut butter, nuts, and low-fat Greek yogurt are good ideas. Fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, and grapes are also a smart choice. And these foods are easy to meal prep to bring to your game.
The most important thing at this stage, though, is to drink plenty of water. Nutritionists recommend you drink half your weight in ounces of water a day (for example, a 150-pound person would drink 75 ounces of water a day). If you’re exercising, you may need even more. Staying hydrated will keep you from enduring cramps during the game or feeling fatigued.
Right Before or During
As mentioned, not every athlete will need to eat during a game. And not every competition may allow for snacks during the event. But if you’re feeling hungry, there are a few things you can snack on. Water, of course, is the best option, but anything with electrolytes and potassium will benefit you. Sports drinks or protein drinks often have these nutrients, along with the right amount of salt and sugar to increase electrolyte absorption as you exercise.
Although it may be tempting to have a sweet or sugary snack as a “treat” during your game, save those for later. Junk food and high-fat foods take a long time to digest and will only slow you down, make you feel sluggish, or cause stomach problems mid-competition. Stay away from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains this close to the game.
What Foods Should Athletes Eat After A Game?
Congratulations! You made it through your game or competition. You may not feel hungry, but it’s best that you eat something rich in protein afterwards. When you compete, you break down lots of muscle, and protein helps repair it. Poultry, meats, fish, and legumes are all great options. If you’re vegan, plant-based protein smoothies are another great option. Make sure to drink water too, but don’t overdo it. Sport drinks with lots of electrolytes might be a better option if you’ve been drinking water all day.
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They’re easy on the stomach, so you won’t have to worry about any issues as you play. And they come in lots of delicious flavors, some of which are dairy-free and plant-based too! Check out our full inventory now to find your new favorite snack. And best of luck, no matter what you compete in.