Easy Pre-Game Snack Ideas for Athletes
It is important for athletes to know the best snacks to enjoy prior to a game to support optimal performance. Let’s take a look at key considerations when planning pre-game snacks. Then we will explore easy pre-game snack options that athletes can eat prior to competitions.
Planning Pre-Game Snacks for Athletes
Carbohydrates should be at the foundation of pre-game snacks for athletes. Carbohydrates provide the body with the energy needed to perform at its best. There are a variety of food groups that provide carbohydrates, including:
- Grains: Bread, bagels, pasta, rice, cereal, oatmeal
- Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried, canned in natural juices, applesauce
- Starchy vegetables
- Dairy: Milk and yogurt
Gluten-Free Pre-Game Snacks
Athletes following a gluten-free diet need to avoid grains that contain gluten, including wheat, barley, rye, and crossbreeds of these grains. In my blog, Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Athletes, I share a variety of pre-game snack ideas athletes on a gluten-free diet can enjoy to support their performance.
Pre-Game Snack Timing
When determining what an athlete should eat as a pre-game snack, the timing for when the snack will be eaten must be considered. In general, the more time an athlete has prior to the start of the game, the larger the size of the pre-game snack can be.
Let’s explore two types of pre-game snacks:
- Mini-Meal: Eaten several hours prior to the start of the competition to help refill energy (carbohydrate) stores for the upcoming game.
- Easy to digest, carbohydrate-rich snacks: Eaten in the hour before competition to provide quick energy for the upcoming game.
Pre-Game Snack Ideas: Mini-Meals
When athletes have several hours prior to the start of the game, a larger snack or “mini-meal” can be eaten. During this time, athletes should choose a snack that is high in carbohydrates, contains moderate amounts of protein, and is low in saturated fat.
Pre-game “min-meal” snack ideas include:
- Fruit Smoothie
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Greek yogurt with mixed berries and granola
- Turkey and low-fat cheese wrap with grapes
- Instant oatmeal with berries and walnuts
- Bagel with nut butter and sliced banana
- Trail mix made with dried fruit, pretzels, dry breakfast cereal, and nuts
Pre-Game Snack Ideas: Quick Energy
In the hour before exercise, it is best to stick with carbohydrate-rich snacks that are low in fiber and easy to digest. The carbohydrates will provide athletes with a quick source of energy as they head into the game.
Snacks athletes can enjoy in the 30-60 minutes leading up to the workout include:
- Banana or small piece of fruit
- Dried fruit
- Applesauce squeeze
- Fruit snacks
- Low-fat granola bars, fig bars
- Mini bagels, bread
- Animal or graham crackers
- Pretzels, pita chips, crackers, dry cereal
- Sports drink, chews, gels
Athletes wanting a quick snack before the game do not have to eat the whole piece of fruit or granola bar. Even eating a few bites of the snack or taking a few gulps of a sports drink will provide added energy for the start of the game.
Foods to Limit with Pre-Game Snacks
In the hour or two leading up to the start of the game, athletes should limit snacks that are high in protein, fiber, and/or fat. Consuming these foods too close to the start of activity may lead to an upset stomach or GI distress during the game (1).
This includes snack foods such as:
- Fried or greasy foods (French fries, onion rings)
- Dessert type foods (ice cream, brownies, fudge)
- Heavy cream, cheese, or buttery sauces
- Beans and legumes
- High fiber vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)
- Whole grains (high fiber)
Some athletes also feel better when they limit spicy foods (jalapeno peppers, hot sauce, snacks with chili powder) or foods/drinks that contain lactose (milk, yogurt) close to the start of a game. It is important for athletes to learn their individual tolerances and to determine what foods they feel most comfortable consuming before activity.
Some athletes get nervous before a game and struggle to eat any food close to the start of competition. They often report feeling that they will be sick to their stomach or have to go to the bathroom if they try eating before activity.
One suggestion for athletes with pre-game jitters is to try sipping on a sports drink in the hour leading up to the start of the game. Sports drinks are formulated to contain fluid as well as carbohydrates and electrolytes. The carbohydrates can provide the athlete with added energy heading into the game. In addition, the fluids can help ensure the athlete starts the game in a hydrated state.
Athletes can also experiment with taking a few bites of a banana, granola bar, or crackers to see if they can tolerate smaller amounts of carbohydrate-rich snack items before activity. With the snack, athletes should drink water to help meet their hydration needs.
Practice Your Pre-Game Snacks
Just as an athlete practices their plays for a game, it is important for athletes to practice their pre-game snacks and fueling strategy. Every athlete is unique in regards to food preferences before activity. Thus, it is important for athletes to take time to find the foods and beverages that they feel provide the best energy to support their performance.
Having a well-practiced pre-game fueling strategy can help provide athletes with confidence that they are fueled to perform at their best on game day.
Easy Pre-Game Snack Ideas for Athletes
You are now set with a variety of pre-game snack ideas for athletes. Remember, carbohydrates should be at the foundation of an athlete’s pre-game fueling plan. In addition, as the start time of the competition approaches, the size of the pre-game snack should decrease.
By planning ahead and practicing their pre-game fueling plan, athletes can ensure they have the energy needed to perform at their best on game day.
For additional sports nutrition tips, check-out my blog: How to Plan an Ideal Post-Game Meal.
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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 has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She 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.