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Game Day Nutrition for Athletes

To perform at the top level, elite athletes often work with a dietitian to maximize their performance. Most dietitians recommend some basic guidelines for athletes to follow to be sure they get the correct nutrition to perform well.

The amount of energy an athlete requires depends on many factors including:

  • age
  • gender
  • sport
  • level of intensity
  • duration of activity
  • training level
  • environment

What to eat on game day

Morning Events

A good pre-game meal is especially important for morning events.

An ideal meal includes foods that:

  • are low-fat
  • are low-fiber
  • are carbohydrate-rich
  • have a moderate amount of protein

Some examples include pasta, brown rice and bananas. This is not a time to try new foods. It's also important to drink enough liquids to maintain hydration.

Afternoon Events

Often athletes have a practice or play later in the day and need a snack before the activity. Eating a snack one hour before play can prevent the athlete from feeling hungry. Make sure to drink some water with the snack.

Some recommended snacks include:

  • a handful of pretzels
  • dry cereal
  • a granola bar


For sporting events that last one hour or less, sports drinks can provide fluid and carbohydrates.

For longer events, it is even more important to get sufficient carbohydrates. Margaret E. Gibson, MD|Sports Medicine recommends consuming some carbohydrates every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the activity. Five to 10 ounces of a sports drink may be sufficient, however, some athletes prefer a carbohydrate snack or sports gel with water.

Once the event is over, it is still important to eat right and refuel the body for future events. A good goal is to eat 50 to 150 grams of carbohydrates within 15 minutes and again two hours after the event. The body recovers faster if you provide it with the right nutrients.

Examples of good foods high in carbohydrates include:

  • pretzels
  • crackers
  • cereal
  • trail mix
  • sports bars
  • granola bars
  • fruit 

After Events

For events lasting longer than 1-2 hours and athletes who are participating in competitive, vigorous exercise, a recovery drink may be needed. A good recovery drink that has an excellent ratio of fats and sugars as well as re-hydrates athletes is chocolate milk. Having a glass of chocolate milk within 30 minutes of activity is a good choice for athletes if it's available. Get more hydration tips here.

Have a Plan

Whether athletes have a couple of games on the weekend or an all-day tournament, it is important to plan your meals, snacks and hydration to ensure athletes are meeting their nutritional needs to fuel their bodies. Especially if teams are traveling out of town, it is important to stock up on appropriate food choices, sports drinks and chocolate milk to take on the trip. With proper planning, athletes can be prepared to perform well with optimal nutrition and hydration.


Learn more about the Sports Medicine Center at Children's Mercy.