What to Eat for Energy Before a Football Game, at Halftime and After

Football players must fuel their bodies properly prior to, during and after a game.

Eating before a football game, whether you're playing American football or soccer, is serious business. Players need to have sufficient energy to physically last for the entire game. Because football, and all sports, really, require so many bursts of energy, eating enough carbs and protein before the game is vital to getting the most out of your performance.

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Before an athletic event, your body needs about two to three hours to digest a meal like breakfast or lunch, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating a small snack 30 minutes prior to the game, such as a granola or protein bar, can help provide some extra energy as game time draws closer.

What to Eat Before a Football Game

The body can store the fuel found in carbohydrates and use it throughout the game when playing football, soccer or any other sport.

According to Leslie Bonci, RD, CSSD, the nutrition consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs, Carnegie Mellon University athletics and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, 55 to 60 percent of a football player's gameday diet should come from carbs, 30 percent should come from protein and 10 percent should come from fat.

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As for specific meals you're eating before a big game, Bonci says that your plate should resemble a "peace sign," because it will be 1/3 protein, 1/3 starchy carbs and 1/3 fruits and vegetables. The protein sources can be fish, chicken or red meat, the carb sources should be rice, pasta or potatoes and the fruits and vegetables can be any that you like.

Eating nutritious carbs can be the key to a player maintaining the correct weight and energy levels. "For athletes, I emphasize foods high in carbs with lower fat: bagels over doughnuts, mashed potatoes over fries, grilled chicken over fried, frozen yogurt over ice cream," Bonci says. "Upping the carbs in their diet will provide those playing sports with more available energy during practice and games."

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The pregame meal has been traditional in American football and other sports. The team gets together to eat together and share the experience. In the past, fat-laden meals were common, but there is now more of an emphasis on keeping the meals nutritious with foods that provide a source of sustained energy.

Foods high in fat take longer to digest, so that can mean that the player can take the field feeling full and heavy prior to the start of a game. "Minimize higher fat foods such as fried meats, fried potatoes, bacon and sausage in favor of leaner proteins and carbohydrates such as bread, cereal and toast," Bonci says. "Eating fewer fried foods decreases the chance of an upset stomach, too, which may also help performance."

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Pregame Meals to Try

Prior to a football game, eat meals like breakfast and lunch at least two hours before the game, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you're eating dinner the night before, prioritize key nutrients and have a lighter meal or snack before the game. Some options include:

  • Breakfast option: Eggs with waffles, ham and fruit
  • Breakfast option: Cereal, fruit and a smoothie
  • Lunch option: Turkey or ham sub with fruit salad and frozen yogurt
  • Dinner option: Pasta with a tomato-based sauce with grilled chicken, salad and fruit
  • Dinner option: An 8-ounce steak with pasta or a baked potato on the side

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Hydration

It is vital to stay hydrated throughout a football game, and in general. Water is the most important nutrient for athletes, though it is often overlooked, according to the National Library of Medicine. In order to keep your body performing at an optimal level, make sure you keep the fluids flowing.

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Drink about 16 ounces (2 cups) or 480 milliliters of water two hours before a football game, or before any intense exercise, per the National Library of Medicine.

Halftime Snacks: What to Eat During the Game

Having healthy halftime snacks for football players can help replenish their stores of energy and keep performance up during the game.

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Snacking (or sipping) on carbs during the game is recommended, just don't have anything to heavy, per the National Library of Medicine. Some recommended halftime snacks for football players and other athletes include:

  • 5 to 10 ounces (150 to 300 milliliters) of a sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes
  • Two to three handfuls of pretzels
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup (40 to 55 grams) of low-fat granola

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Some other light halftime snacks for football players and athletes are:

  • Orange halves: Eating orange halves at halftime can help keep you hydrated, as oranges have high water content. They're also a source of carbs and antioxidant vitamin C.
  • Apples, carrots or figs: Apple slices, carrots and fig bars are easy to grab for a quick halftime snack, and they each have a good amount of carbs for more energy during the game.
  • Bananas: Bananas have carbs and potassium, an electrolyte mineral that can help your body stay hydrated and use the carbs you've eaten for energy, according to the National Library of Medicine.

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Hydrating During (and After) the Game

To reiterate the importance of staying hydrated, taking in an ample amount of fluids is especially important at halftime and after the game, as your body loses fluid when you sweat during intense physical activity. Water and fluids keep the body hydrated and help regulate body temperature during sports games, per the National Library of Medicine.

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Make sure to drink water during and after you exercise, about 1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 240 milliliters) of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes, per the National Library of Medicine. Stick to plain water in the first hour, and switch to an energy drink thereafter, which will help you get enough electrolytes.

What to Eat After the Game

After a football game, or any intense physical exercise, you'll need to eat carbs again to replenish the energy in your muscles, per the National Library of Medicine. Eat a meal with carbs and some protein, or drink a sports drink that has carbs and electrolytes, two hours after the game. Some nutritious options include:

  • An energy bar
  • Trail mix with nuts
  • Yogurt with granola

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