A Nutrition Plan for Game Day
What you eat and drink on the day of a game can have a massive impact on how you perform. We are going to examine some practical advice and tips that coaches can give to their players in order to put them in the best position possible at the first whistle.
Firstly, it is important to note that all athletes need a complete and varied diet including protein, fats and carbohydrates but in this post, we will just be looking at advice on what to eat solely on the day of a match to best improve performance. Eating like this every day is not in the athletes’ best interest.
The first and probably most important aspect of game day nutrition is carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are the bodies’ main energy source, and not only can we use carbohydrates for energy straight away our body can also store carbohydrates for use later. As an athlete, you want to make sure that these energy reserves are completely full before the game so you can be fuelled as long as possible.
So how much carbohydrates do we need? This will depend on the sport you’re playing and the position for example a goalkeeper will not need as many carbohydrates as a centre mid, however, the general rule of thumb is 1 -3 grams of carbohydrates per kg body mass, this will take a degree of trial and error to find what works best for you.
Another important aspect of game day nutrition is the type of carbohydrate that you eat, for the day of a game you always want foods that are easy to digest and won’t cause any intestinal issues, here is a sample morning meal schedule for a football player:
10 am: pancakes with syrup and berries
12 pm: a bowl of cereal or fruit salad
2 pm: kick-off
You will notice that these don’t seem like necessarily the ‘healthiest’ foods, this is true, but they are perfect for times like this as they are easy to digest, high GI foods that the body can easily break down into glucose for energy, this is why you also see a lot of players have some jellies before game’
The next vitally important aspect of game day nutrition is hydration.
Dehydration is a huge inhibitor to performance. For every litre of water, the body loses through sweat heart rate increases, cardiac output decreases and core temperature increases all negatively affecting performance.
It is impossible to completely combat fluid loss but in order to minimise its effects, you should always advise athletes to drink 2-3 litres of water before the game and then to get water on board at any break in play they can, take every opportunity to get water in especially half time or longer injury breaks.
I also recommend that athletes increase their salt intake the day before the game as sodium is the most prominent mineral lost in sweat.
Finally, the last major aspect of game day nutrition is what to eat after the game in order to recover. When it comes to nutrition there are three Rs for recovery :Refuelling, Rehydrating & Repair.
Refuelling refers to carbohydrate stores, our bodies’ energy reserve will be very depleted after a game, so you want to make sure that you eat enough carbohydrates after the game to refuel them especially if you have a short turnaround before your next game.
It’s important that athletes eat a carbohydrate-rich meal as soon as they can after a game.
Rehydrate as you may have guessed is all about rehydrating your body by drinking plenty of water. Most people will lose between 1 – 4 kg body weight from water loss during a game, it takes 1.5 litres of water to replace every 1 kg lost so make sure and drink at least 2-3 litres after the game and throughout the evening, alcohol and caffeine will also contribute to dehydration so if possible, avoid these after the game too.
Finally Repair. Repair refers to repairing any muscle damage that has occurred during the game. Protein plays a massive role in muscle repair so it is important that you have consumed enough protein throughout the day, strength athletes should be consuming around 2 grams of protein for every kg of body weight.
Given that your meals were very focused on carbohydrates pre-game a large portion of your protein will probably have to be consumed post-game, it is important not to forget about protein on game day as your body can suffer a lot of damage in games especially games like rugby.’
These are the main areas that should be focused on when it comes to game day nutrition, if you wish to learn more about game-day nutrition why not listen to or watch our latest podcast or if you would like to learn more about nutrition and become a qualified performance nutritionist why not sign up for our Diploma in Performance Nutrition.
Shane O’Rourke is the Irish Education Manager at APEC. He is a personal trainer, S&C coach and nutritionist.