Published: July 22, 2009
Updated: Nov. 11, 2010
Eating the right food at the right time can promote endurance and performance during a sporting event or game.
The way an athlete eats before game day, the day of a game, and after the game is important for enhancing optimal performance.
A generally recommended diet for in-season athletes to follow is:
Players who follow these guidelines will notice improvements in energy in the second half and in multiple games. Players will also notice improved recovery between games.
The most important pre-game meals occur two to three days prior to a game because game-day energy levels are most affected by what was eaten in this time frame.
Therefore, glycogen loading or carbohydrate loading should be performed two to three days prior to a game.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel used during a game and contribute to muscle glycogen being built up for game day. Many times, athletes with the most pre-game muscle glycogen keep their stamina throughout the entirety of the game.
The general recommendation for carbohydrate loading is five to six grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight over the course of a day. To determine your weight in kilograms take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 (for example, a 130 pound athlete weighs 59 kilograms; 130/2.2=59).
So, a 59 kilogram athlete should eat 295-354 grams of carbohydrates over the course of a day (59x6=354).
Make sure to check nutrition labels and calculate your carbohydrates, so that you can be sure to consume enough fuel to keep you going on game day.
You typically want to eat your pre-game meal three to four hours before the start of the game, but remember that meal will have little effect on energy during the game.
Most players want to eat a meal that will not leave them feeling full come game time. Fats and proteins take longer to digest; therefore, carbohydrates often are the food of choice.
In the hour prior to the game, food, especially carbohydrates, should be avoided. Carbohydrates cause an increase in insulin which lowers the blood sugar levels and will make you feel sluggish.
However, in the few minutes prior to the start of the game, carbohydrates can be eaten to create a quick fuel source. The sluggish response will be counteracted by the adrenaline, excitement of game time, and activity.
Some examples of good food choices at the start of the game are oranges, grapes, raisins, watermelon, bagel, white bread, jelly, and oatmeal. Carbohydrate drinks are also a good choice for a quick energy boost.
Drinking carbohydrate-rich drinks throughout a sporting event may provide you the extra energy you need to out-perform your opponents.
Muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) is the primary fuel source used during a sporting event and is depleted following the game and needs to be replenished. Muscle is most receptive for glycogen replacement in the first two hours after exercise, so it is important to eat some carbohydrates in the first two hours after the game.
The goal is to eat 50-100 grams of carbohydrates every two hours until you reach your total based on your body weight (five to six grams per kilograms of body weight).
Do not try to replenish all of your carbohydrates in a few hours -- it often takes one to two days to restore glycogen levels to completely depleted muscles.
Playing more than one game in a day provides a unique challenge of eating enough carbohydrates without feeling too full to play well in the next game. Remember that it is important to eat foods which will digest quickly.
Fast food, although convenient, contains a lot of fat and protein which takes longer to digest and does not provide much fuel needed for the next game. Try to avoid fast food when eating for sports performance.
Some between-game snack ideas are cereal and pretzel mixes (homemade, without the oil/fat), raisins, bagels, watermelon, and bananas.
This information was provided by Duke Sports Medicine physical therapist Kelly Hess.