Nutrition Player Development

The Best Gameday Meals For Peak Athletic Performance

To play your best, you have to feel your best. That means fueling your body with delicious and nutritious foods like these.

by Adam Wood

Writer, researcher and soccer coach. Devotee of The Beautiful Game. Lifelong learner and community-building advocate.

It’s no secret that the food you eat changes the way you perform. We’ve all had those days where it feels like every footstep is dragging, every decision takes too long and every sprint is just a little slower than usual.

Fatigue could happen because we’re not sleeping enough or not hydrated enough. But more often than not, it comes down to poor nutrition. Your body needs energy and fuel to burn. It’s up to you to make sure you’re eating the foods that will help you play at your fittest, fastest and most explosive best — and avoiding the foods that will just weigh you down.

But it isn’t always easy to know what those foods are, or how to easily incorporate them into your routines. That’s why we’re here, with some simple advice and quick, delicious recipes to help you play your best by feeling your best.

Nutrition basics for athletes

The right diet will boost your energy levels and stamina, and lower the amount of time it takes to recover after a game or tough workout. The wrong diet will make you feel weak, heavy and absolutely drained.

On gameday, your body needs energy that it can easily burn and convert into energy. That means you need complex carbohydrates, which use glycogen to fuel explosive and high-intensity movements like sprinting. Complex carbohydrates also delay fatigue by helping your body regulate energy release over a full game.

For stamina, your body also needs access to slower-burning fuel. That means you should be eating healthy natural fats for your body to use as energy over longer periods of time, like a 60 or 90 minute soccer game. Proteins help this process, because they start unlocking your body’s fat storage for more efficient energy.

Complex CarbohydratesNatural FatsProteins
Whole wheat pastaNutsChicken
Wholegrain breadChia seedsFish
Sweet potatoesOlive oilLentils
Brown riceCoconut oilBeans
QuinoaPeanut butterPeas
OatmealOlivesBanza chickpea pasta

What to eat the day before your game

Nutrition is always important, and healthy habits will always pay off in the long run.

But for athletes, the 24 hours before a game are especially crucial. Anything you eat during this time will directly impact the way you feel, and the way you play. Avoid processed foods, get lots of carbs and (of course) hydrate like crazy. 

Dinner the night before a game is the most important meal during these 24 hours. It’s also the biggest meal you should eat, because your body will spend the night digesting and converting these nutrients into energy for the big day. 

This meal should be full of carbohydrates and lean protein, and should be easy to digest. One great idea are these amazing salmon and veggie rice bowls, which are easy to tweak and absolutely loaded up with vegetables.

A few other killer recipes that can boost recovery and optimize muscle gains can be found here, courtesy of FourFourTwo magazine. I can testify to the tastiness of the first recipe (pesto pasta with chicken, asparagus and peas), and am keen to try the rest soon!

What to eat on gameday

You want to find that perfect balance where you eat enough to be full of energy, but not so much that you feel heavy or bloated. Striking that balance will take some experimentation, because everyone’s body is different.

Generally speaking, though, you want to eat your last meal 3-4 hours before a game. That gives you enough time to digest your food and store it as energy, instead of having it sitting in your stomach when it’s time to play. Look for fast-burning carbohydrates, and avoid the fats and fibers that make you feel sluggish because they take so long to digest.


For a game earlier in the day, your pregame meal could be a simple avocado toast, served with an egg scramble (with lots of veggies!) and a side of fresh fruit. This breakfast is chock full of carbohydrates, healthy fats, and all the vitamins and minerals you need to dominate on the field.

Another option (and one of my very favorites) is to start experimenting with the perfect smoothie. Everyone’s tastes are different, but I’ve had a lot of luck with this delicious banana peanut butter smoothie. The banana and peanut butter are such strong flavors that you can add just about anything — like kale, spinach or avocado — without even noticing them in the smoothie! I usually add protein powder, chia seeds and coconut oil for that extra energy punch.


If your kickoff is a little later in the day, you might want a meal that feels a little bit heartier. The same principles are true: fuel up on carbohydrates, avoid too much protein or fiber, and include some healthy natural sugars. Some easy possibilities: turkey sandwich on wholegrain bread, served with a side of fruit. Pasta with red sauce and a side of bread. Chicken and rice, served with veggies and a cup of juice. Gameday isn’t the day to experiment with new flavors: keep it simple, so there’s no surprises when you step onto the field.


Since your last meal is 3-4 hours before your game starts, you might still be hungry. That’s fine — just be sure to top off with the right foods to act as fuel. Salty snacks like pretzels and crackers are a great choice. So are yogurts, cereal bars or fresh fruits. Apples are some of my favorites: not only are apples a great source of natural sugar and delicious with peanut butter, their skin is full of energizing vitamins and minerals.

Postgame recharge

After your game, your focus should go from supplying your body with fuel, to helping your body repair, replenish and rehydrate. During the two hours after exercise, your body is its most efficient at absorbing nutrients and repairing muscle. In those 2 hours, you should be filling it with protein, complex carbohydrates and (of course) tons of water and electrolytes. High-fat foods will slow that recovery process down. 

A burrito or burrito bowl is a great choice for post-game recovery. So is this salmon and sweet potato grain bowl, a healthy homemade hamburger or a delicious, decked-out salad.

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