What to Eat for Energy Before a Football Game

rear view of a football player throwing a football

A football game is a grueling test of power, strength and stamina. A game lasts for 48 to 60 minutes, but most plays require quick bursts of high-intensity effort. Proper pre-game nutrition can provide you with the energy you need to take on the challenges of game day. Knowing what, how much and when you should eat can give you an edge during competition.


Carbohydrates are the most important nutrient you can consume to provide energy before a football game. Common carbohydrate foods include pasta, potatoes, cereals and bagels. Electrolyte replacement sports drinks and specially designed energy bars are other sources of carbohydrates.Your body converts carbohydrates to glycogen, the primary energy source stored in the muscles. When you exercise, your body converts stored glycogen to glucose -- or simple sugar -- and uses it for energy. During the early stages of moderate exercise, carbohydrates provide 40 to 50 percent of the energy requirement. Higher work intensity, such as running the ball full speed down the field, utilizes an even greater percentage of carbohdyrates, note J. Anderson et al. of Colorado State University.

Digestion and Timing

For maximum game-time energy, most food should be out of your stomach, broken down and absorbed by the start of the game. Renowned coach Chris Carmicheal suggests eating your last full meal at least two and half to three hours prior to exercise for it to be properly digested. Carmicheal notes that eating between .5 and 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight between one and four hours before competition will maximize the fuel available to you during exercise. The closer you are to game time, the lower on that range you should aim – for example, if you are eating a snack one hour before play, aim for .5 grams per pound of body weight. A 195-pound player would thus consume about 50 to 95 grams of carbs one hour prior to the game's start. Sample quick-energy meals with approximately 50 to 75 grams of carbs include 1 cup of fruit juice and a banana, 1 ½ cups of multigrain cereal with 1 ½ cups skim milk or an energy bar with 8 ounces of an electrolyte replacement sports drink. Avoid downing quick carbs in the minutes before game time. Straight carbs in the form of honey or sugar take at least 30 minutes for your body to process into energy. The quick insulin spike provided by the sugar is followed by a quick drop in blood sugar, which may lead to fatigue, nausea and dehydration right in the middle of the game.

Foods to Avoid

Although proteins and fats can be a dense source of calories, these foods are hard for your body to digest. If you cannot digest the food, it will not be readily available for use during the game. Instead of making you feel energized, high-fat and high-protein foods can make you sluggish as your body directs its energy to metabolizing the food. Skip steak, sausage, ice cream, mayonnaise-based salad and cheese prior to a game. Also, avoid low-carb, low-calorie foods like diet drinks and green salads, which will not provide you with enough calories or carbs for energy.

Energy Drinks

Specially designed electrolyte replacement drinks can be a good source of carbohydrates, but be wary of ones that claim to provide you with extra energy. These drinks usually have excessive amounts of caffeine, which may cause heart rate irregularities, nervousness and nausea. Young players are especially at risk because they may not notice the warning signs of an overdose of caffeine and may become addicted to the artificial high. Energy gained from high-caffeine drinks can derail your focus, causing you to crash and burn during competition.

High-Carb Diet

Your energy levels are more likely to stay high during competition if you follow high-carbohydrate diet during all of football season. Strive to consume a diet that consists of about 70 percent carbohydrates, which helps your body always have adequate glycogen stores. The night prior to a game, you might benefit from a meal that consists of 70 to 80 percent carbohydrates. Spaghetti with marinara sauce is a classic example of a high-carb, energy-providing meal. A dietitian or sports nutrition expert can help you develop a season-long nutrition plan that is specifically tailored to your training regimen and weight.