My son just started football practice – and immediately I thought -- what am I going to feed him to fuel him? Like having the right gas in the car to make it go, football players need the right fuel too. Yet, it can be overwhelming to feed a football player. With each practice or game, calorie needs rise tremendously.
I'm cutting through the overwhelm and simplifying how to feed a football player to help you serve love and fuel from the kitchen.
First off, football players need to EAT: Three meals a day, plus a pre-event and post-event snack.
And when I say EAT, I mean EAT. Especially if they have prolonged practices. Right now, my son is working through six-hour practices. You can't do that on an empty stomach.
Before I get into meals, let's do a quick play-by-play of the essential nutrients to fuel football:
Because of the quick bursts of energy needed during football, it's essential to have the right fuel – carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy quickly. Ideally, 55-60% of the total day should be carbs.
If you break down your plate like a peace sign, 1/3 is fruit and vegetables, 1/3 is starch (like bread, pasta, rice, potatoes), 1/3 is protein (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, beans, nuts and soy). Carbs must be the main fuel source as players won't recover in time for the next practice/game unless carb intake is adequate.
Definitely needed to build and maintain muscle mass, but be careful not to over do it. This happens a lot -- protein powders, protein shakes, too much protein is actually stored as fat and can lead to dehydration. How much is adequate? 1/3 of the plate at mealtimes.
It's important to keep fat in check too – fat doesn’t supply the fuel needed to build muscles, but it's still important for calories. Choose lower fat food options especially before an event/practice/game, as excess fat can cause stomach cramping and indigestion.
Rehydrating is essential too -- water, sports drinks and even low-fat chocolate milk can fuel performance. Recommendations from Lesli Bonci, a sports dietitian, are for drinking 16 ounces of water one hour before exercise as it takes an hour for it to leave the stomach. Drinking 20-40 ounces per hour of practice. Drinking 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise, immediately after exercise.
Here are a few tips on re-hydrating:
- Gulp instead of sip
- Swallow instead of spit
- Drink fluids, not pour them on your head
- Scheduled fluid breaks are essential - every athlete needs to stop to re-hydrate.
Meals to Feed a Football Player:
Start with a breakfast of champions.
There's no excuse to miss breakfast. Athletes that miss breakfast will suffer on the field, and won't be able to reach full potential in performance. This doesn't just affect your player, it affects the team, as football is a team sport. The peace sign meal sign applies to breakfast too.
Here are some good breakfast ideas:
- Breakfast tacos
- Overnight oats
- Two egg Omelet with 1/2 cup diced veggies and 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and jelly, plus 1 cup of fresh fruit and low-fat milk
- Fruit and yogurt smoothie paired with a quick breakfast roll-up of peanut butter on a tortilla with a banana rolled up inside
- Grilled Cheese and Egg Sandwich
This is the time to pair carbohydrates and protein for optimal fueling. About one hour before practice, have one of the following:
- Trail Mix with nuts and dried fruit
- Guacamole with Tortilla Chips and Nuts
- Cheese and Crackers
- Cheese and Grapes or Apple Slices
- Tuna Salad on Crackers
- Apples and Peanut Butter
- Carrots with Hummus
- Egg Salad Sandwich (made with low-fat mayo)
- Fruit with low-fat Greek yogurt
It's so much fun to get the team together where everyone fuels their gas tanks before the big game. The best strategy here is to fuel with carbohydrates, protein, and lower fat options. Fats take longer to digest, so a high-fat meal can lead to a heavy-feeling stomach, which leads to less energy on the field.
Stick with what is familiar though – no new foods before game time.
Good meal choices for three hours before the game:
- Turkey or ham sub sandwiches with cheese and meat and vegetable toppings, low-fat mayo and mustard, mixed cut fruit, salad, milk
- Eggs, waffles, Canadian bacon, fresh cut fruit, milk and juice
- Pasta with red sauce (not cream sauce), grilled chicken, dinner roll, salad, fruit, milk
- Grilled chicken with baked potato, salad, baked breadstick, fruit, milk
Post-Event Snack (within 30 minutes for optimal benefit):
Again, the right protein-carbohydrate ratio is needed to refuel energy and replace glycogen stores from muscle. Some examples:
- Chocolate milk and crackers
- Peanut butter crackers
- Yogurt with cereal or fruit
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Banana with peanut butter
- Cheese and crackers
Post Game Meal:
This is the spot in the day where the calories and fat can be a little higher, because it's often when players are hungriest. But a balance is still important -- still incorporate whole grain carbohydrates and a source of high quality protein, along with fruits, vegetables and milk.
- Pasta with cream Sauce and chicken, broccoli, salad, breadsticks, fruit and milk
- Hot Beef Commercial (Roast Beef/Potatoes/Gravy/Bread) served with a salad, fruit, and milk
- Grilled hamburgers with toppings, roasted potatoes or french fries, salad, fruit and milk
- Grilled salmon with brown rice, cheesy vegetables, a biscuit, fresh fruit and milk
- Pizza topped with lots of vegetables, a salad, fruit and milk
- Chicken or beef burrito with vegetable toppings, rice, and beans, fresh fruit and milk
Every time I feed my son, I believe I'm empowering him on the football field and sharing my love from the kitchen. I hope you have enjoyed these tips -- let me know in the comments!