What to Eat to Stay on the Field this Football Season

STACK Expert Jim Carpentier offers advice on the best foods and drinks to consume during football season to stay on the field and recover from injuries.

Football Nutrition

If the high school football season already has you banged up and fatigued, you may want to pay more attention to your diet. Nourishing foods and beverages make you feel better on and off the field. A good diet helps you play better, prevents muscle cramping, aids recovery from muscle soreness and injuries, and enhances rehabilitation to get you back on the field.

Certain plant-based foods and beverages (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, eggs, dark chocolate, olives, olive oil, and black and green tea) contain powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds to promote recovery from activity. Fish, lean meats, poultry, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products maintain muscle and protect bones for overtaxing practices and games.

To keep you healthy on and off the field, I've compiled a menu to prevent football-related ailments, including muscle cramps, sprains and strains, bruises, scrapes, tears, and broken bones.

Muscle Cramps

Painful leg cramps from dehydration or muscle overuse, tightness, strain and fatigue are common in early season, warm-weather conditions. Not enough potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can exacerbate them.

To minimize cramping, drink plenty of water before practices and games.

Also try these potassium-rich foods before practices and games (allow time for digestion): bananas, oranges, raisins and potatoes.

Calcium-rich foods include milk, cheese, yogurt, dark leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, soy nuts and canned fish (e.g. sardines).

Magnesium-rich foods include nuts and seeds (e.g., almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds), yogurt, avocados, bananas, dried fruit (e.g., raisins, prunes), dark chocolate, fish (e.g., tuna, mackerel), dark leafy greens and whole grains (e.g., brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta).

Broken Bones, Fractures and Muscle Tears

Broken bones, fractures and torn muscles take time to heal. Proper nutrition (in conjunction with rest and rehabilitation) is integral during the days and weeks of recovery. Nutritionist Dr. Susan E. Brown, director of the Center for Better Bones in East Syracuse, N.Y., says adding more plant-based protein to your diet helps bones heal. "Including more foods like soy, lentils, other legumes, almonds and quinoa will increase your protein intake without creating a more acidic environment in your body the way excess animal-based protein can," she writes in her Better Bones newsletter.

Other foods and beverages that aid tissue repair and enhance healing include almonds, eggs, canned fish, yogurt, cheese, milk, black and green tea, berries, oranges, kale, tomatoes, and broccoli.

Cuts, Scrapes, Bruises

After you've treated a wound to minimize risk of infection, eat foods rich in vitamin C and vitamin E to further aid healing. Vitamin C-rich foods include oranges, strawberries, kiwis, tomatoes, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and red and green peppers. Vitamin E-rich foods include olive oil, olives, eggs, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Muscle and Weight Maintenance

Offset calorie-burning practices and games by combining, at each meal, muscle-building protein foods and beverages (eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, soy, fish, lean meats and poultry, milk, cheese, and yogurt) with energy-boosting natural carbohydrates (fruits, veggies and whole grains).

Eat small meals frequently throughout the day. Include a small but energizing pre-practice/pre-game meal (allowing at least two hours for digestion) and a post-practice/post-game meal to enhance muscle and joint recovery. Drink sufficient water, which aids digestion and muscle and injury recovery, and helps maintain muscle mass. Muscles are mostly composed of water, so adequate water intake makes them appear fuller.

Here are some suggestions for mini-meals of protein and carbohydrates:

  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread with chocolate milk
  • Dried fruit, nuts and string cheese
  • Baked potato (or yam, brown rice or whole wheat pasta), fish, and leafy green salad mixed with olive oil and black beans
  • Oatmeal topped with milk, raisins, dark chocolate chips and sunflower seeds, and a cup of yogurt
Read more:


  • MayoClinic.com. ("Muscle Cramp"). February 19, 2013.
  • Better Bones Newsletter. ("Learn to Speed the Bone Fracture Healing Time—Simply and Naturally," by Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD"). May 2011.

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