Health: Pregame Meal - Fuel Up Your Body

What to eat before a football game?

Eating before a football game is serious business. Players need to have sufficient energy to last for anywhere between 48 minutes--during high school games--and 60 minutes--during college and professional games. Players are required to expend maximum energy on 50 to 75 plays per game, and they must have the energy reserves to perform this task. Since football requires so many bursts of energy throughout the game, carbohydrate intake is vital to getting the most out of your performance while maintaining your health.

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The body can store the fuel found in carbohydrates and use it throughout the game when playing football. According to Dr. Leslie Bonci, the director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a nutrition consultant for the Pittsburgh Steelers, believes that 55 to 60 percent of a football player's game day diet should come from carbohydrates, 15 percent should come from protein and 30 percent should come from fat. Bonci says that a game day meal should resemble a "peace sign," because it will be 1/3 protein, 1/3 starch and 1/3 fruits and vegetables. The protein sources can be fish, chicken or red meat, the carbohydrate sources should be rice, pasta or potatoes and the fruits and vegetables can be anything that is fresh. Eating healthy carbs can be the key to a player maintaining the correct weight and energy levels. "I emphasize carbohydrate-containing foods with lower fat: bagels over doughnuts, mashed potatoes over fries, grilled chicken over fried, frozen yogurt over ice cream," Bonci says. "I explain that upping the amount of carbohydrate in their diet will provide them with more available energy during practice and games. And less fried foods often decreases the chance of an upset stomach, which may also boost performance."

The pregame meal has been traditional in football. 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 healthier and de-emphasizing the fat intake. Foods that are 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 items such as fried meats, fried potatoes, bacon, and sausage in favor of leaner proteins and carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, and toast," advises Bonci.

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Give your players a choice of food to eat prior to the game. Turkey or ham subs can be among the choices, and make sure they also have fruit salad and a frozen yogurt. Eggs with waffles, ham and fruit can be an ideal breakfast before a game. You can serve pasta with a tomato-base sauce along with grilled chicken, salad and fruit. Another choice can include cereal, fruit and a smoothie. If you want the traditional pregame steak, have an 8-ounce filet with pasta or a baked potato on the side.

It is vital to stay hydrated throughout the game. In order to keep your body performing at an optimum level and not break down, keep the fluids flowing. You must drink about 16 oz. of a sports drink one hour before the game. Drink 20 to 40 oz. of water every hour of the game. Weigh yourself after the game. If you have dropped weight, try to drink 24 oz. of fluid for every pound lost.

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