Here’s How Athletes Should Fuel Their Bodies For A Big Game

Nutrition plays an important role in performance.


Megan Flemmit |

Whether you’re eating to lose weight or to bulk up, getting the right nutrients is essential for your transformation. But for athletes, proper nutrition goes beyond aesthetic goals. It’s necessary to fuel their performance on the field. When it comes to training there are certain foods athletes should eat. The right meal can enhance your performance, while the wrong one can hamper it.

Related: How to Avoid Underfueling Before Your Workout

We spoke to registered dietician, Anneen Middel, to find out how athletes can use food to fuel their performance. She gave us a breakdown of which foods athletes should eat during each meal. Follow her recommendations to get the most from your performance whether you’re training, playing a big match or recovering from one.

Chart Guidelines:

  • Red: Protein
  • Blue: Carbohydrates
  • Green: Fruit and Vegetable

24 Hours Before Match Day

In the 24 hours before your match, you need to optimise glycogen storage in both the liver and the muscle, says Anneen. To do this, increase your carbohydrate intake moderately to ensure your glycogen levels are replenished. Combine carb intake with moderate amounts of lean protein to stabilise blood-sugar levels.

“Athletes should also keep hydrated during the day, drinking at least 5-6 glasses of water,” she says. To support your immune system eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables and ensure you get enough sleep.

Related: Five Steps To Help You Wind Down And Get To Sleep Faster

In the day before the match and on match day, avoid foods which create gastrointestinal discomfort. That means avoiding gas-forming foods like legumes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower as well as artificial sweeteners. Strongly spiced foods are also out as well as foods that you’re allergic to. Instead, opt for eating white meat such as chicken or fish and if you want to eat red meat opt for lean beef.

On Match Day


When eating 2-3 hours before the game, ensure you have the adequate energy intake. “Do not skip this meal,” says Anneen. “Ensure you get enough kilojoules -and carbs – to recover muscle glycogen after training or fasting (i.e sleeping).”

Fill your plate with sufficient slow or intermediate releasing carbs. Add moderate amounts of protein and small amounts of fat to help stabilise your blood sugar levels. “Athletes should drink 200ml to 600ml of water with their pre-match meal to stay hydrated.”

Related: 4 Healthy And Delicious Peanut Butter Smoothies

Post-match Recovery

Immediate recovery (0 – 60 minutes post-match)

With immediate recovery you can knock back a recovery drink with both carbs and protein. Drinking this mix within the first few minutes after an event is crucial for the recovery of glycogen stores and the repair of muscle tissue. This initial period (0-60min) after an event is called the window period during which the speed of nutrient uptake is quick (read: ideal conditions), says Anneen. “Poor recovery can influence muscle repair, immune function and affect your performance in matches or training sessions later on,” she explains.

Extended recovery (1-3 hours post-match)

This meal is important for optimal replenishment, but even more so if athletes are going to train again the following day (or for a series of matches).  “It should contain moderate portions of both carbs and protein,” says Anneen. Keep in mind that lost fluid should also be replenished, so ensure you consume enough fluids.

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