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Over the past few years, the University of Alabama football team has been one of the most dominant squads in the country. And tonight they will vie for their second BCS National Championship in three years when they take on LSU.
A major factor in the team’s success has been their dedication to nutrition, under the guidance of director of performance nutrition Amy Bragg. When you have a team of elite players—like Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Marquis Maze and Mark Barron—you have to make sure they are properly fueled for games. Since joining the Crimson Tide, Bragg has gone to great lengths to revamp the nutrition culture so the players get the most out of their practices and workouts and are well prepared for games.
Learn how Alabama fuels up and what they are eating to prepare for the National Championship in this exclusive interview with Bragg.
STACK: What does a typical regular season Saturday pre-game meal plan look like?
Bragg: We will start with a really nice, balanced meal on Friday night, [including] three protein choices, four starch choices, a salad bar, a fruit salad and a lot of fluids. We then have a nighttime snack to start individualizing their nutrition to ensure each player is ready. When we play Monday (such as today), we will have a real nice brunch at about 10 a.m., an optional snack three hours later and then our pre-game meal. This meal should be higher in carbs, including starchy foods, fruits and a lot of fluids.
STACK: What pre-game meal guidelines would you recommend to all athletes?
Bragg: You want your pre-game meal to be three and a half to four hours prior to competition. Focus on starchy foods, but you also want some protein in there as well. Chicken and rice or penne pasta with some lean beef meatballs are great options. If you want a steak, stick to a tenderloin filet. We also have dinner rolls, peanut butter and jelly and even cereal. It’s a lot of trial and error to figure what works for each person.
STACK: Do you do anything different nutritionally for a big game like the National Championship?
Bragg: We do what we normally do. We stick to what works best.
STACK: How do the players maintain their performance during a game?
Bragg: A lot of the guys, like the speedy defensive backs, really like Gatorade Prime, which is a concentrated energy product you take before a game. Football players really don’t like to eat gels, but they like the taste of Prime, and it works. We have a lot of nutrition options available one hour before a game and then again at halftime. Overall, our guys drink and eat a lot of Gatorade and Gatorade bars.
Hydration always varies with each player. You have your heavy sweaters or maybe a player has been sick, so these types always need to pay extra attention to their hydration.
STACK: What does a typical post-game meal look like?
Bragg: We want to get something in them, which is our number one goal. Eating after a long game is therapeutic. It stimulates recovery and gets guys to rebuild. Sometimes we might have a turkey wrap, fruit, some bars or a rice crispy treat. We look for a 3:1 ratio for our carb-to-protein recovery products. We can’t go any lower than that due to NCAA guidelines.
After the National Championship game, the players are getting some treat food. They deserve it.
STACK: What happens if players make poor food and hydration choices?
Bragg: Usually, we will see guys miss reps or maybe even cramp and be on the sideline when they should be on the field.
I’ve seen guys in the training room who are running behind and have a bag of fast food. We see sodas and Hawaiian Punch sometimes. If you have a good routine, you won’t need to rely on these last-ditch options.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images