Planning the Best Halftime Snacks for Athletes
If you compete in a sport that has a halftime, make sure to take advantage of the break to rehydrate and refuel. Often games are won or lost in the last minutes. Having a well-planned halftime snack can give you the energy you need to perform at your best until the final buzzer. Let’s take a look at nutrients needed during competition. Then we will explore halftime snack ideas for athletes.
Planning Halftime Snacks
When planning your halftime snacks, the goal is to choose snacks that will help you replace carbohydrates used for energy during the first half. You also want to replace the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.
Refuel at Halftime
Carbohydrates provide the energy athletes need to perform at their best. In the body, carbohydrates are stored in the liver, muscles, and blood stream. As you exercise, you use up your carbohydrate stores.
During halftime consuming carbohydrates, either from a sports drink or a snack, can help supplement your body’s carbohydrate stores1. Even if you only consume a small amount, the carbohydrates can provide quick energy for the start of the second half.
Consider experimenting with different types of carbohydrates to find what form works best for you. For example, do you prefer eating solid food or consuming a sports drink? Are there any carbohydrate-based foods that bother your stomach during activity, such as fruit, gels, or bars? Each athlete is unique, thus taking time to figure out what type of carbohydrate helps you perform at your best is key.
Rehydrate at Halftime
It is also important to rehydrate during the halftime break. Dehydration can negatively impact performance and increase the risk of heat illness2. When you sweat you lose both fluid and electrolytes, thus make sure to consider both in your halftime hydration plan.
You can choose to replace fluids with either a sports drink or water. A sports drink is formulated to contain carbohydrates, sodium, and a small amount of potassium. When consumed during activity, the carbohydrates in the sports drink provide energy for the working muscles. The sodium and potassium in the sports drink help replace electrolytes lost in sweat2. If you choose to hydrate with water, consider another option for replacing carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Halftime Snack Ideas to Rehydrate and Refuel
Here are halftime snack ideas to help you meet your hydration and carbohydrate needs.
- Hydrate: Water, Sports Drinks
- Sport Gels or Chews
- Carbohydrate-Based Sports Bar, Fig Bar, or Granola Bar (even a couple of bites can provide added energy)
- Fresh Fruit – Orange Slices, Banana, Grapes
- Dried Fruit, Fruit Chews, Applesauce Squeeze
- Pretzels, Animal Crackers, Graham Crackers, Snack Crackers
Eating salty, carbohydrate-based snacks (such as pretzels) at halftime can also be a good choice. The carbohydrates in the pretzels provide energy and the salt helps replace the sodium lost in sweat. Salt also helps stimulate thirst, thus encouraging you to drink more during the break.
Snacks to Avoid at Halftime
There are some snack choices that are not ideal at halftime, let’s take a look at a few.
- High-Fat – Snacks high in fat may cause GI distress during activity, as they are digested slowly in the body. For this reason, at halftime avoid high-fat snacks, such as fried foods, greasy foods, and dessert-type items.
- High-Fiber – During competition we want to provide the body with quick energy that can be immediately used for activity. Fiber slows down digestion, thus high-fiber foods are not an ideal halftime snack. Fiber is important in an athlete’s diet, but high-fiber foods are best consumed outside of competition.
- Carbonated Beverages – Drinks with carbonation may make you feel bloated or bother your stomach during activity. Choose plain water or a sports drink over a beverage with added fizz.
Don’t Overdo the Halftime Snacks
When it comes to sports nutrition, it is easy to think that if some is good, more must be better. However, consuming too much of some nutrients may lead to GI distress or cause you to feel bad during the second half.
Too Much Carbohydrate at Halftime
Consuming too much carbohydrate during the halftime break may result in an upset stomach or other GI concerns. I have seen this occur when athletes consume multiple carbohydrate-based sport foods at once. For example, consuming gels, chews, and a sports drink all together during halftime.
Consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour is recommended for endurance exercise lasting over an hour. This recommendation applies to athletes participating in team sports that involve frequent starting/stopping1.
This amount is recommended based upon the body’s ability to absorb carbohydrates during activity. When athletes consume way over this amount, particularly from a single type of carbohydrate (glucose, fructose), GI distress may occur. Consuming concentrated forms of carbohydrates, such as sugary drinks (soda) or fruit juice during the halftime break may similarly lead to GI discomfort in the second half3.
Too Much Caffeine During Competition
Athletes may desire to use caffeine during activity in an effort to increase alertness, improve cognitive function, and compete at a higher intensity. In the hour before exercise, typical caffeine recommendations are to consume 3-6 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. When caffeine is consumed during exercise it should be at a lower dose (< 3mg/kg body weight or ~200 mg) and taken with a carbohydrate source4.
When it comes to caffeine, consuming too much before and during activity can definitely be problematic. Higher doses of caffeine (≥9 mg/kg body weight) increases the risk of side effects, such as jitters, anxiety, and nausea, and does not provide an increased performance benefit4.
While these are general guidelines, be mindful that there are individual variations in how athletes metabolize and respond to caffeine intake5. Some athletes may find a benefit from a lower dose of caffeine or have undesired side effects from smaller amounts.
Practice Your Halftime Snacks
Just as you practice your plays for the game, it is important to practice what snacks you will use during competition. Do not try new halftime snacks for the first time on game day. Individuals vary in what foods they tolerate and feel best performing on. You want to go into competition confident in your sports nutrition fueling plan.
For additional sports nutrition strategies for competition, check-out my blog, Your Guide to Game Day Nutrition. In addition, consider meeting with a Sports Dietitian for an individualized sports nutrition meal plan customized for your unique performance goals.
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- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543–568. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852
- American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J., Montain, S. J., & Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(2), 377–390. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597
- Jeukendrup, A. (2007). Carbohydrate supplementation during exercise: Does it help? How much is too much? Gatorade sports science institute: Sports science exchange, 20(3). Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-106-carbohydrate-supplementation-during-exercise-does-it-help-how-much-is-too-much-
- Maughan, R. J., Burke, L. M., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D. E., Peeling, P., Phillips, S. M., Rawson, E. S., Walsh, N. P., Garthe, I., Geyer, H., Meeusen, R., van Loon, L., Shirreffs, S. M., Spriet, L. L., Stuart, M., Vernec, A., Currell, K., Ali, V. M., Budgett, R., Ljungqvist, A., … Engebretsen, L. (2018). IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(2), 104–125. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0020
- Guest, N., Corey, P., Vescovi, J., & El-Sohemy, A. (2018). Caffeine, CYP1A2 Genotype, and Endurance Performance in Athletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 50(8), 1570–1578. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000001596
About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.