Athletes' Game-Day Diets Slideshow
March 31, 2011
Right Before the Event
Your goal here is eat easily digestible carbohydrates that will provide a little instant energy. But don't overdo it on quantity because too many carbs will result in drop in blood sugar (decreased energy, shakiness, foggy thinking).
Good examples include: Fresh fruit, fruit juice, or Gatorade, a few bites of bagel, a few crackers or rice cakes.
Insider tip: Some people find that a quick hit of a few jelly beans or a few sips of fruit juice within two minutes of starting can give you a bit of energy.
Two to Three Hours Before the Event:
Here you can eat something with slightly more substance, but you still want to be sure that what you're eating is not going to cause a drop in blood sugar or divert too much energy towards digestion. It's probably best to keep it to whole grain carbohydrates, but a small amount of protein or fat may be okay for most people.
Good examples include: Whole wheat toast with jam, whole wheat English muffin, baked potato, pasta, and oatmeal.
Three or More Hours Before the Event
Your goal here is to build up your muscle glycogen for use during the event. Eat carbohydrates for that, but your meal can be larger and include more protein. This is what people think of as "carbo loading." While going to extremes is not going to help (there is a limit to the amount of glycogen your body produces), it could help to eat a normal meal-sized portion three or more hours the night before an event.
Good examples include: A turkey sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, pasta with meat sauce, stir fry with brown rice and tofu or chicken, and a breakfast burrito with a scrambled egg and salsa (left).
When It Matters: Fluids
Water quenches thirst, regulates body temperature, and helps the liver and kidneys clear the body of unhealthy toxins. All athletes must drink water before, during, and after exercise. Here are guidelines for how much and when:
One to Two Hours Before Event: A cup or two of water
Ten to 15 Minutes Before Event: A cup of water
Every 15 Minutes During Event: ½ cup of water
If you are exercising longer then 90 minutes, you may benefit from a sports drink with 40 to 80 calories, but otherwise, water is sufficient.
After the Event
It's important to replace muscle glycogen and protein to repair muscles after an event. If you have no appetite, drink a caloric beverage such as Gatorade. As soon as you have an appetite, eat a meal that consists mainly of carbohydrates with a little bit of protein. And drink lots of fluids.
Non Game-Day Eating for Athletes: Sufficient Protein
Athletes need extra protein to build, repair, and maintain muscle mass. They are also a good source of B vitamins that are necessary for converting glucose into energy. Every meal and snack should contain some protein.
Good examples include: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, yogurt, peanut butter, and nuts.
Non Game-Day Eating for Athletes: High-Fiber Carbohydrates
High-fiber carbohydrates provide the energy your body needs to run well. High-fiber carbs provide sustained energy rather than a big hit and the subsequent low blood sugar that follows. Each meal and snack should contain some high fiber carbs.
Good examples include: Whole wheat bread, pasta, and brown rice,
Non-Game-Day Eating for Athletes: Healthy Fat
Increasing intake of healthy fats is good for everyone, including athletes. These healthy fats reduce risk of heart disease, can increase joint function, brain function, and the immune system.
Good examples include: Fish (especially salmon), nuts and seeds, olive, olive oil, avocado, or peanut butter.
Non-Game-Day Eating for Athletes: Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide lots of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and antioxidants that your body needs. You should aim for five to seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Any kind are good, though dark or brightly-colored fruits and vegetables are particuarly potent sources of nutrients. Limit juice to about one cup per day, and obviously fried vegetables like onion rings are not the best choices.