Proper Nutrition for Athletes on Game Day — What and When to Eat for A Fantastic Performance

Nutrition is essential for supporting an athlete’s general health and training needs, notes Medical News Today. Hydration, caloric needs, and meal and snack timings are all important nutritional factors for athletes to consider, however, knowing what foods are best for game day — and when to eat them — can be overwhelming. From the role that nutrition holds in playing a good game to the value in properly fueling up on certain foods, here’s what you should consider regarding game day nutrition.

The role that nutrition plays 

Generally speaking, nutrition plays a paramount role in performing well as an athlete, and what and how you eat on game day can be particularly important.  According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating smart before an event can help greatly in avoiding low blood sugar (as well as its symptoms, which include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and muscle weakness, to name a few). The Cleveland Clinic goes on to further note that the right foods can also help to “settle the stomach by absorbing gastric juices and preventing the distraction of hunger,” not to mention the value it has in increasing muscle glycogen stores, which helps provide the body with maximal energy.

The night before 

According to one UChicago Medicine post, carb-loading (as well as avoiding new foods) is ideal on the night before a game, noting that starchy foods like pasta, rice and potatoes offer carb-rich options that are perfect for fueling up for the next day. For those seeking an easy (yet fulfilling) meal, turning to familiar favorites can make for a satisfying solution the night before a big game. While it may sound contradictory, pizza can be just one worthy option — though it’s necessary to consider the fact that not all pizzas are healthy, especially those that are laden with grease. Healthline points out that pizza sold in fast-food restaurants and convenience stores is among the unhealthiest of choices — however, some recipes can be healthy, especially when it’s a homemade pie.

Homemade pizza is just one way to achieve a healthy pre-game meal, and is the best way to put yourself in control when it comes to ensuring that only healthy toppings and ingredients are used. One unique way to create a nutritious and flavorful pizza the night before a game is to use a smoker to bake the pie. While it may sound like a time consuming process, successfully smoking a pizza can easily be achieved with the help of a pellet smoker and a few simple tools. After creating a nutritious homemade pizza, using a pizza stone to cook it in a smoker will bring a smoky flavor to the pie itself, though it’s important to leave the door to the smoker closed for the best result. For those who plan to limit their pizza intake to just a slice or two, adding a few sides will make for a fulfilling and well-rounded meal. Skipping the sausage and opting to smoke foods like pineapple or veggies, for instance, can make for flavorful additions to enjoy with a side of cooked rice or a salad.

The day of the game

On game day itself, Ryan Turner, R.D., C.S.S.D, C.D.N., sports dietitian at New York University and Top Balance Nutrition in NYC explains how an athlete should eat on a timeline basis. One to two hours before game time, Turner notes that “Starch-based meals should be the focus,” and goes on to point out that foods such as lower-fiber rice, pasta, and breads all make for good options, though the Men’s Journal article stresses the importance of avoiding overeating. With appropriate meal options listed including a sandwich with turkey and low-fat cheese or a burrito bowl (with white rice, chicken, and tomato — sans guac/sour cream), quicker options include string cheese, greek yogurt, or snack bars. 60 minutes before game time, Turner recommends focusing on “quick-digesting snacks” such as fruit, peanut butter, and low-fat Greek yogurt.

Overall, nutrition plays a major role in staying healthy and performing well as an athlete. However, what you eat and how is essential in preparing for the ideal gameday, both on the day before and the day of the big game.

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