Game Day Food: Pre-Game and Post-Game Nutrition

Nutrition plays a major role in an athlete’s success – especially a professional football player. To compete at the highest level in football, pro players maximize their diets with the guidance of their sports dietitian. And during the season, teams follow a nutrition game day plan – including pre- and post-game meals – to stay fueled and performing their best.

Pregame Nutrition

The plan begins with a meal consumed 3-4 hours before game time. This meal keeps the players free from hunger and fatigue before and during the game and helps maintain optimal energy levels throughout the game. The pregame meal consists of complex carbohydrates, moderate lean protein and low-fat foods to ensure easy digestion. Examples include:

Lean Protein

Complex Carbohydrates


Grilled/baked chicken

Sweet potato

Green beans

Grilled/baked salmon

Brown or wild rice

Vegetable medley

Lean ground beef or pork

Whole-wheat pasta or bread



Oatmeal or whole-grain cereal

Fruit cup


Post-Game Nutrition

Nutrition doesn’t stop there. In fact, the post-game meal is as important, if not more important than, the pregame meal. The focus of this meal is to repair, rebuild and refuel the body with key nutrients and fluids 30-60 minutes after the game – which is an optimal time for recovering muscles. Since players are usually rushing to get on a bus after a game, refueling with easy-to-handle “quick” foods, like smoothies or build-your-own burrito bowls, is best. Smoothies containing the dairy protein whey are ideal, as whey is rapidly absorbed and contains leucine that triggers muscle building and growth. Milk-based drinks (like chocolate milk) are preferred for post-workout recovery since milk contains carbohydrates to help refuel the body, protein to help reduce muscle breakdown and promote growth, and fluid and electrolytes to aid in rehydration.

Daily Nutrition

While nutrition plays a big role on game day, having the proper fuel on a daily basis has a larger impact on a player’s performance and overall health. Dairy options – like yogurt parfaits, string cheese and milk – are good protein sources that can be consumed throughout the day to preserve lean body mass, promote muscle growth and help with weight management.

Proper game day nutrition and recovery are vital to successful performance for NFL players who are competing week in and week out. Learn more about sports nutrition.

By Taylor Lile, M.S., RDN, CSSD, LD

Taylor Lile is a sports dietitian experienced at working with collegiate, professional and tactical athletes. Her interest in sports nutrition began in high school through her own experience as an athlete seeing how diet impacted her performance. At the University of Oklahoma, she was a sports nutrition volunteer with the football team, while earning her bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences. In graduate school at Loughborough University in England, Taylor worked with the Nottingham Panthers of the Elite Ice Hockey League as a sports dietitian while earning her master’s degree in sports and exercise nutrition. Taylor currently works with U.S. Army combat forces and also has worked as a sports dietitian at Clemson University, University of Oregon and West Virginia University as well as with the NFL Dallas Cowboys and Gatorade Sports Science Institute through the NBA G League Texas Legends.

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