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For the Young Athlete: Pre and Post-Game Meals

For the purpose of this article, a pre-game and post-game meal refers to meals eaten before or after exercise, practice or games.

Timing is critical when planning pre- and post- game meals and snacks. For pre-game, it is important for meals to be fully digested before the activity begins. This will allow your young athlete to avoid hunger and provide optimal fuel during the event. Post- game meals are designed to replenish the body’s glycogen (stored carbohydrate). This will best equip your athlete for the next activity.

Pre-game meals should be consumed 2-3 hours before the practice/game. If time is short, a lighter meal or snack should be eaten 1 hour before the practice/game. The composition of a pre-game meal should be familiar, easily digested foods. Avoid foods high in fat (anything fried) or exceptionally high in fiber (5 grams or more like beans or some higher fiber cereals). These will slow down digestion and increase the likelihood of cramping during the activity.

Post-game meals include a combination carbohydrate-protein snack within 30 minutes of the completion of a practice/game plus a full meal within 2 hours. Protein can come from dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese), lean meats, legumes (dried beans and peas, soy, lentils) or nuts and nut butters (e.g., peanut, almond, hazelnut). Examples of post-game snacks are listed below.

Two-thirds of the meal plate for both pre- and post- game meals and snacks should be high complex carbohydrate foods: whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, and rice; fruits, vegetables and legumes.

  • If breakfast is pre-game, try cereal & milk, yogurt & fruit, oatmeal with milk, toast with peanut butter, whole grain waffle & lean meat, fruit smoothie & toast.

  • A post-game snack could be wheat crackers & cheese, apples & peanut butter, granola bar, or trail mix (dried fruit, breakfast cereal and nuts).

  • A post-game meal could be pasta with meat sauce, PB&J, cheese/veggie pizza slice, lean meat sandwich or “wrap” style sandwich, Oregano Chicken , Fish Tacos , Stir Fry Beef – (all with milk & fruit). See ‘Recipes/Lunch & Dinner’ for more meal ideas.

It is important for your young athlete to eat right on game day and every day! And, with some planning, you will optimize the nutrition of your athlete with properly timed and composed pre- and post-game meals and snacks.

This is the fourth article in a 5-part series called ‘Sports Nutrition for the Young Athlete’. Up next: Energy Balance and Weight Control.

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