By: Kelly Burke, RD, LD
Use this information to maximize your performance and create your own pre-game nutrition plan. By eating the right types of foods and at the right times you will be ready for kick off!
What should I eat before my game? This has to be the most frequently asked question from soccer athletes. While it would be easy to compile a list of recommended foods, to really understand how to eat for peak performance, the answer is more complex. Let’s start with the basics.
The pre-game meal has four main purposes:
• to provide energy to working muscles
• to spare muscle glycogen stores
• to prevent hunger and any gastrointestinal distress
• to hydrate the body
However, to maximize your body’s ability to achieve these results, it is necessary to look at not just what you eat but when you eat. Interestingly, the “fuel” or “energy” athletes use during a soccer game has more to do with the foods eaten the day before or at least six hours prior to game time, than the actual “pre-game” meal itself. This is why it is so important for soccer players to eat a high carbohydrate diet on a regular basis so glycogen stores can be consistently restored. Glycogen refers to the form of carbohydrates stored in each muscle tissue that is held within the muscle until it is needed in exercise. When those stores get low (from either intense/extended exercise or lack of carbohydrate consumption) then muscles lack the “fuel” needed to contract and perform optimally. Therefore, the pre-game meal (the last meal eaten before competing) offers only a small amount of energy for game performance, as most energy is coming from glycogen storage created days before. The best strategy for maximizing performance then is to eat a healthy, higher carbohydrate diet the day before a big game, followed by a smart pre-game meal.
An excellent pre-game meal is one that is:
• high in carbohydrates
• moderate in protein
• low in fat
These guidelines are important since an athlete does not want food in the stomach when beginning a soccer game due to the fact that blood used for digestion is needed in the working muscles when exercising. Moreover, if blood is being directed away from the stomach to the hard working muscles, then food cannot be digested, causing food to remain “sitting” in the stomach. Undigested food can cause cramps, gas, discomfort and nausea leading to decreased performance. Luckily, carbohydrates are very easy and quick to digest compared to fat and protein, so this is partly why the pre-competition meal should to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat and protein. Small amounts of protein, especially plant protein (coming from grains, vegetables, and soy) may not problematic, but higher fat foods like bacon, sausage, fries, hamburgers, butter can certainly impair performance due to their lengthy digestion time.
Good carbohydrate choices are those that are easily digestible:
• whole grain bagels,
• granola bars
• dried fruit.
Never try a new food on the day of a game, but stick to familiar foods that you have eaten before prior to exercise.
Use the following guide below for ideas and suggestions for your SMART PRE-GAME MEAL.
Early morning game:choose a light breakfast or small snack (bananas, pears, grapes, low fat yogurt, dry cereal, bagels, dried fruit, orange juice or fruit smoothie)
Afternoon game: choose a hearty breakfast (cereal, pancakes, waffles, bagels, oatmeal, fruit) and a small snack 2-3 hours before the game if needed
Evening game: hearty breakfast, comfortable lunch (soup, crackers and an apple; turkey or chicken sandwich with fruit and vegetables; pasta with red sauce and vegetables; peanut butter and jelly with carrots and juice; hearty salad with chicken, low fat dressing and fruit) and another small snack 2-3 hours before the game if needed.
Snack Ideas Include: dried fruit, fig bars, yogurt, crackers, pretzels, sports beverage, dry cereal, graham crackers, english muffins, Luna bars, Cliff bars, etc
Some Foods To Avoid: high fat meats (sausage, bacon, hamburgers, spare ribs), high fat toppings (gravy, alfredo sauce, mayonnaise, peanut sauce), chips, fried foods (hash browns, French fries, fried chicken or fish,), full fat dairy (cheese, sour cream, ice cream).