Football player at practice

Aug 31, 2020 / Sports Medicine

Pre-Game Meal Guide for Coaches

Eating before a game or competition is important to make sure the young athlete is fueled and hydrated from beginning to end. No matter the time of day, this “pre-game meal” can be a game changer. A poor pre-game meal can leave the athlete tired, dehydrated or with stomach pains and cramping during the event. An athlete after a well-planned pre-game meal is energized, focused and sharp. For afternoon or evening events and games on the road, an athlete may be dependent on others to make the right choices. Coaches and parents can use this list of do’s and don’ts for building a performance-boosting pre-game meal for your teams and athletes.

A variety of carbohydrates: 
  • Complex carbohydrates:  whole grain breads, crackers and rice, fruit, yogurt, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, wheat and corn tortillas.
  • Simple carbohydrate options: dried fruit, white bread, white rice and pretzels.
A few lean protein choices:
  • Grilled or baked chicken, deli turkey slices, hard-boiled eggs, beans, part-skim mozzarella string cheese, low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt.
  • Peanut butter or seed butter can be a good option for some athletes (note: these are higher fat protein sources, so make sure the athlete already knows he/she can tolerate pre-exercise).
A variety of fluids:
  • Water, sports drinks, fruit smoothies and flavored waters.
Foods high in fat:
  • Fried foods, baked goods, high fat dairy products and high fat meats. 
Foods high in simple sugars:
  • Candy, sodas, ice cream and cookies.
High-fiber-only options:
  • Some athletes may need to eat a very simple meal before a game due to stomach discomfort caused by nerves. It’s important for this reason to include some low-fiber options in the meal, as shown in the simple carbohydrate options above.
  1. Choose what works: In the off-season, learn what your body tolerates best before an event. Try to create that. Learn more.
  2. Try to include at least three different food groups at the meal: This can look like – turkey on whole-wheat hoagie sandwich bread with lettuce, tomato and mustard + pretzels and a bowl of fresh fruit.
  3. Don’t skip the carbohydrates: Carbohydrate foods will be your main source of energy throughout the game. Eating carbohydrates in the pre-game meal tops off any muscle stores that are low and stabilizes the blood sugar that could be dipping at the end of a busy day.
  4. Drink up: Drinking water is the best option for the athlete. However, if you have trouble eating before a game due to pre-game jitters, a sports drink may be a good option. This can provide some additional carbohydrates and electrolytes before the event starts. Turn to smoothies, yogurt, fresh fruit and soups to get fluids in your pre-game meal.
Note: Remember that the closer you get to the event, the simpler your food choices should be.  If your pre-game is closer to your event time than usual, try choosing lower fiber carbohydrate choices in your meal while still getting some protein and leave higher fat foods for after the event is over.

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