Gassed. Out of breath. Last across the line. Or worse, flat on your back. If you’re a football player, you want to avoid such embarrassments. If you don’t, you’ll probably experience another bummer—the view from the bench. So make sure you’re fueling up on the right foods before stepping on the field.
“Prior to any kind of practice—whether it’s weights, or running through some plays, or a really tough field workout—or a football game, an athlete needs to eat about two to four hours beforehand,” says Liz Applegate, team nutritionist for the Oakland Raiders. “And what [players] should focus on is primarily carbohydrates and some protein, not the other way around.”
It’s not just about calories. Down a bunch of chips and fruit drinks, and you’ll quickly burn through your energy before the final whistle blows. “You want to turn to things like whole-grain bread that you’re going to use on your sandwich that has lean meats like turkey or chicken,” Applegate says. “You want to look to potatoes and sweet potatoes for other good sources of carbohydrate calories that also have nutrients. And then, [add] the different fruits and vegetables.”
How much fruit should you be having? At least four servings a day, according to Applegate, who also stresses foods that are low in fats. She says, “Fat takes a longer time to digest, so you wouldn’t want a big ol’ jar of peanut butter [before competing], because that’s very high in fat, and it’s going to take awhile to digest. But having two slices of whole grain bread, with a tablespoon or so of peanut butter, that’s fine.”
On her list of quality foods prior to a morning practice or game: cereal, fruit, pancakes, whole-grain bagel with jam, juice and milk.
Morning foods to avoid: sausage, bacon and pastries.
“I always look at an athlete’s performance as a combination of their genetic gifts, great coaching and nutrition,” Applegate says. “They all play an equal role . . . if you haven’t prepared yourself nutritionally, you could be the worst one on the field.” Or, worse, on the bench.