The Best Pre-Game Foods

Woman about to serve in a tennis game.

Your pre-game meal can help to supply your body with a significant amount of energy an athlete will need for an event. However, it will not supply all the energy needed. Instead, you should eat the right types of food for several days prior to any event in order to charge the muscles with plenty of glycogen, the energy source the muscles use during most sporting activities. The pre-game meal will help to stabilize blood sugar levels, hydrate the body, prevent gastrointestinal upset and avoid hunger during the event. There is no one meal or food that is right for every athlete but there are choices that are smarter than others.

Timing the Meal

Close up of a fresh bowl of salad.

According to the University of Illinois extension in Urbana, IL, it is important to allow for enough time for digestion prior to the event. Eat the meal at least three hours prior to the athletic event. Although the timing is important, it is also important to eat the right combination of types of foods to ensure that the stomach is empty and there is no excess gas or gastrointestinal upset.


Complex Carbohydrates

Rice with vegetables.

Starches and complex carbohydrates are an important piece of a pre-game meal plan because they breakdown and are digested at a rate that provides energy faster than protein or fats. In fact, according to Dr. William Sears, practicing pediatrician, carbohydrates should be 70 percent of caloric intake for up to three days prior to an event. According to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, these complex carbohydrates include pasta, rice, potatoes, starchy vegetables, breads, cereals, pancakes and fruits and fruit juices.


Restricted Pre-Game Foods

Selection of donuts in a tray.

Athletes should not eat proteins, fats, fiber or high-sugar foods within three hours of an athletic event, according to Colorado State University. Meals that are high in protein, fiber or fat will take longer to digest and break down for use as energy. They can deplete energy stores, slow down digestion and create a gastrointestinal disturbance that will negatively impact athletic performance. High-sugar foods will lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar and an equally rapid decline with reduced energy and mental alertness. Concentrated sweets can also draw fluids out of the gastrointestinal tract and contribute to dehydration, cramping, nausea and diarrhea.



Young woman drinking a glass of water.

Although not a true food, any pre-game meal plan must include adequate hydration with plain water. According to the Colorado State University, water is critical to athletes because dehydration can cause muscle cramping, decreased performance and fatigue. During an event athletes should replace fluid with chilled liquid during frequent intervals. Chilled fluids are absorbed more readily and help to reduce core temperatures.