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Sports Expert Q&A: How to Create a Killer Pre-Game Meal

Every day, CaptainU is working with experts in all areas of cutting edge sports. Each week, we’ll be hosting a Q&A between multiple experts in one genre who have answered a pressing question from athletes.

This week, we talked with Jackie Buell, Director for Sports Nutrition at OSU and Matt Fitzgerald, certified sports nutritionist.


How to Create a Killer Pre-Game Meal: Jackie Buell

In high intensity sports, athletes need high gear so they need carbohydrate in the muscle. Carb in the muscle is called muscle glycogen and is like jet fuel! But remember, each athlete tolerates and uses carb a bit different. The trick is to fuel well without over-fueling, or to carb well without over-carbing.

Pre-game meals are best taken about 2-4 hours before a game. The meal should have a moderate amount of carbohydrate, small portion of lean meat and small amount of fat. When we consume high fat meals, they sit in the stomach longer. The carb meal with a little protein will clear the stomach and get to the muscle with the timing intended by a competitive athlete. Some athletes also prefer a low residue meal, meaning one that does not have a lot of roughage to cause intestinal issues.

Here is a thought about our favorite softball pre-game meal when we have about two hours before game:

  • 4″ sweet bread hoagie bun with 2-3 ounces ham or turkey and one slice provolone cheese with tomatoes and lettuce as desired
    1/2 to one cup of pasta salad made with rotini noodle and low fat or regular italian dressing (leave out the olives, pepperoni, etc, it just adds fat and most kids don’t really like)
  • Piece of fruit or fruit cup like mandarine oranges
  • Small carton of skim milk or water to drink
  • If desert is a must: frozen yogurt or Rice Krispie treat

Other popular pre-game foods could include: pretzels, yogurts, dried fruits, cereals, any pasta with lower fat meat and sauce.

Foods to avoid are large high fat cuts of meat, lot of butter or sour cream or other creamy sauces, any high fat food taken in excess.

Food volume needs to be just right for each person, there is no one size fits all, learn this about yourself.

The closer your meal gets to game time, the more simple you want it to be. For those double headers, use foods like the pretzels and Greek yogurts to help you recover, hydrate and sustain. As most of us know by now, syrup flavored milks (like chocolate milk) are helpful to re-fueling immediately after contests.

How to Create a Killer Pre-Game Meal: Matt Fitzgerald

The ideal pre-game meal has three qualities: energy, familiarity, and timing.


The best source of energy for intense sports activities is carbohydrate. But not all carbs are the same. The sugars in energy drinks are carbs, but not the kind that provides the lasting energy you need to perform at your best. Instead, choose carb-rich whole foods such as whole grains (e.g. brown rice), starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes), and fruit.


The pre-game meal is not the place to experiment. This meal should be made up of foods that you eat regularly, that you like, and that sit well in your stomach. For example, if your pre-game meal is a breakfast, you might eat old-fashioned oatmeal with fruit; if it’s a lunch, you might eat a turkey sandwich with veggies on whole wheat bread; and if it’s a dinner, you might eat a chicken breast with a baked potato and steamed broccoli.


Your pre-game meal should be eaten close enough to game time that the energy in it is still available to your muscles, but not so close to game time that it’s still sitting in your stomach, where it could cause discomfort once you start moving. The sweet spot is three to four hours before game time.

Jackie Buell has been the Director for Sports Nutrition at Ohio State University for the past 12 years. She teaches in the Medical Dietetics Division in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Medicine. Her research focuses on body composition and bone density of athletes along with common metabolic issues like metabolic syndrome or PCOS in our larger athletes

Matt Fitzgerald is a certified sports nutritionist and author of numerous books on diet and nutrition for athletes, including The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. He offers one-on-one nutrition coaching services for athletes at

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