TWIST Eats: Nutrition and Sports


FUELING FOR FOOTBALL: Nutrition and Sports

Eating before a football game is serious business. Players need to have sufficient energy to last for anywhere between 48-60 minutes. In order to do this, players must have energy in immediate reserves. Nutrition and sports go hand-in-hand to really take your craft to the next level. Well-rounded nutrient intake is vital for performance, while maintaining good health. Carbohydrates are especially key when it comes to game time.

Football is a game of skill, strength, and stamina, all of which can be affected by what, when, and how much an athlete eats and drinks. Athletes need to apply the same effort to proper fueling as they give during traditional football training. When players neglect nutrition, they can’t full take advantage of all of the hard work they’ve put into training throughout the year.

Why Carbs?
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates are important to a healthy life. Carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning they are one of the three (carbohydrates, protein and fats) main ways the body obtains energy, or calories. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.


Nutritionist Katrina McGiffin / Nourish and Be

“They are the quickest and easiest form of food for our bodies to convert into energy, making them a critical component of any athlete’s diet.”


How much?
Most experts agree that 55 to 60% of a player’s game day diet should come from carbohydrates, 15% from protein, and 30% from healthy fats.

Which carbs?
Simple vs. Complex
Focus on quality carbs over sugary foods. Minimally processed or unprocessed foods are always best. The less fiber a carb has in it, the faster it will be converted into energy. Simple carbohydrates (from whole foods) include things like sweet potatoes (without skin), white rice, bananas, berries, dates and sourdough bread. More complex carbs take longer for the body to digest, therefore slowing their conversion into energy, and include things like whole grain pasta and bread, potatoes with the skin on, steel cut oats, and wild rice.

Minimize higher fat items such as fried foods, in favor of leaner proteins (chicken, fish, pork, egg) and carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, starchy vegetables, and pasta. Foods that are naturally high in fat take longer to digest, so it’s always good to pair the carb with a healthy fat (avocado, nut butter, eggs, fatty fish).

When consumed, carbohydrates will take approximately 2-3 hours to be digested in the stomach, before moving into the small intestine. Once digested, muscle and liver glycogen stores (energy) are at their peak – your ‘fuel tank’ is full. In light of this, the optimum time to consume your pre-game meal is 3-4 hours ahead of kick-off. This is the perfect time to ensure that your body has had the opportunity to claim as much nutrition from the meal as possible.


What should you eat 24 hours before a game?
Professional players will begin their ‘carb-loading’ the day before a game; peaking at about 6 hours ahead of kick-off. The day prior to game day, a balanced diet with increased carbohydrates and hydration are key. Again, for your dinner, increase carbohydrates to one third of your meal. Katrina McGiffin, local Nutritionist, says to “aim for the most nutrient rich carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, plantains, beans, brown or wild rice, peas and corn. Pair the carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats, including things like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, and grass-fed cheese.”

Nutrition and sports performance

What about early games?
In preparation for an early kick-off (1pm or earlier) we need to focus on taking in more carbs first thing, as our opportunities to fuel up are limited. You will need to wake up by 8am, and eat a carbohydrate rich breakfast to maximize your energy for an early game. You will also want to make sure your dinner the night before is correctly balanced.

For later kick-off times, taking on carbs in the morning is still important, but the emphasis should be on a later pre-game meal.

What about a ‘last minute’ snack?
In addition to the main pre-game meal, you can also benefit from a ‘last-minute’ snack. This should be eaten about an hour ahead of kick-off; to ensure that those glycogen levels are topped up and you are optimally fueled.

Below are some suggestions –

  • Trail mix
  • Whole grain cereal or protein bar (avoid high sugar levels) and popcorn
  • Jerky and plantain chips
  • Natural chips and guacamole
  • Turkey and pretzels
  • Toast and cottage cheese, hard-boiled egg, or nut butter
  • A well-balanced smoothie

What about after the game?
The key to post-play recovery is rehydration. Even in the coldest climates, players sweat significantly during games and practices. They lose essential minerals in the sweat such as potassium and sodium. Besides water, encourage them to eat a high-carb and sodium-rich snack such as healthy granola bars, whole-grain crackers/pretzels, and high-quality electrolyte drinks (NOT SPORTS DRINKS – see alternate natural recipes here).

Follow up quickly with a protein-rich meal to help retain muscle mass, and to repair injuries and maxed out muscles.

The following table lists suggestions for pre-game meals, based on kick-off times:

Noon Kick-off (Breakfast)

  1. Eggs, avocado, potatoes, berries
  2. Toast with nut butter, banana, smoothie
  3. Oats with nuts and fruit, hard-boiled egg
  4. Pancakes with meat, strawberries

Afternoon/Evening Kick-off (Lunch/Dinner)

  1. Turkey sub, watermelon, carrots
  2. Chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans, sourdough bread
  3. Pasta with meat sauce, small salad
  4. Lettuce wraps, white rice, fruit

For more information or nutrition counseling, you an reach Katrina here:

website –

email –
office – (503)635-4656
Encompass Health & Wellness
4309 Oakridge Rd.
Lake Oswego, OR