The Best Time to Eat Carbs Before Basketball

Written by Katherine Harmer, RDN

With a basketball game approaching, you need to fuel your body with the right amount and right type of energy. Nutrition is just as important as training when it comes to reaching your top athletic potential.

A pre-workout meal full of carbohydrates should be eaten between 1-4 hours before a basketball practice or game. Try eating a meal 3-4 hours before basketball so you aren’t playing on a full stomach. You can always add a small snack 30 minutes to 1 hour before to top off your energy stores. Experiment with what works best for you.

Keep reading for the importance of your pre-workout meal timing, the types of nutrients you need before training, what to eat before basketball, and the best meals to eat before a game.

Should You Eat Right Before Playing Basketball?  

Yes, you need to eat in the hours before playing basketball. It’s important to start a game with the most amount of fuel your body can store for use throughout high-intensity basketball.

I’m not saying you should play basketball on a full stomach, because that creates new problems, but a well-planned meal or snack will have you playing your best.

Experiment with timing and type of meal for your individual preferences.

When Should You Eat Carbs Before a Basketball Game?

Eating the right type and amount of healthy carbs can be the key to help a teen basketball player maintain high energy levels during a basketball game.

You need to eat close enough to game time so that you have your maximum amount of stored energy levels, but not too soon before the game that you are playing basketball on a full stomach. It takes some practice and personal preferences to find the best pre-game meal window for your individual tolerance.

A high school athlete should fuel up on carbohydrates between 1-4 hours before a basketball game. Pre-game meals full of carbohydrates, such as pasta, will help to boost performance during a basketball game by providing an efficient energy source.

Do a trial run before practice to see what time best meets your needs. Start by eating your pre-game meal 3-4 hours before you head to the court. If you eat too early and find yourself needing a little more food and fuel before the game, you can always add an additional snack of quick carbohydrates 30 minutes before tip off.

Many players find that they do best with their pre-game meal about 2 hours before the game. Do a trial run before a practice to see what works best for you without upsetting your stomach.

How Much Should You Eat Before a Basketball Game?

You should plan a pre-game meal to be around 500-800 calories and a pre-game snack to be about 100-300 calories (or more if you do better with more carbs).

Starchy carbohydrates are key before a game. You’ll want to fill up on those plus a moderate amount of protein and plenty of fluid.

How Many Carbohydrates Should You Eat Before Basketball?

Some professional basketball athletes like to carb-load in the days prior to their big event. Carb loading for you as a high school athlete means you need some extra carbohydrates in your meal, but not an excessive amount. The average player will need about 70+ grams of carbohydrates in their pre-game meal.

Here’s some examples of around 70 grams of carbohydrates:

(approximate amounts)

  • 1 fruit smoothie (about 2 cups/16 oz) =60 grams of carbohydrates. Add some crackers, toast, or a small bagel.
  • 2 cups of pasta =80 grams of carbohydrates. Pair this with some tomato sauce, chicken, and veggies. 
  • 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich plus a banana =88 grams of carbohydrates.
  • 3 pancakes =66 grams of carbohydrates. Add some nut spread, jam, or fruit. 

There are many different types of pre-workout meals and snacks that provide an ample supply of carbohydrates. Choose a meal that is easily-portable to bring with you during the day so you can eat 1-4 hours before your basketball game. Eat enough that you won’t be hungry, but don’t overeat.

See also: Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

What Is The Best Food To Eat Before a Basketball Game? 

Basketball players expend maximum energy during games so their energy stores need to be adequately stocked to meet these needs. Carbohydrates will fuel muscles for the quick bursts of energy.

It’s not a myth that many of the professionals like to fuel up on pasta before a game. It’s an easy way to get easily-digestible carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates (also known as carbs, sugar) are the main form of energy you need from food for exercise. Carbs are the preferred fuel for your muscles and brain to function at their best ability.

Carbs come from grains, legumes, dairy, starchy vegetables, fruit, and sugary foods.

All types of carbohydrates will give you energy, but some are better than others when it comes to fueling you before a game. Starchy carbohydrates are key, they break down and can be stored as glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates for your muscles). These will be digested at an appropriate rate to provide the body a consistent source of energy over the next few hours.

Avoid sugary foods, treats, candy, and desserts as part of your game day meal plan. They can give you quick energy, but your blood sugar will spike and later crash which causes undesirable side effects such as fatigue, cravings, irritability, and difficulty focusing.

Best Carbohydrate Choices Before a Basketball Game:

Choose carbs from healthier options such as pasta, bagels, potatoes and sweet potatoes, bread, fruit, vegetables, rice, cereals, oatmeal, tortillas.

You should usually choose whole-grains for meals, but right before a game you can stick with white breads and pastas if whole-wheat options tend to cause bloating and discomfort during your game. Also limit your intake of processed carbohydrates such as sugary cereal, candy, soda, and dessert.

This pre-game meal is the most crucial. Don’t let pre-match nerves get in your way of a proper pre-game meal. If you find yourself having a case of pre-game nerves for the upcoming game and can’t eat a big meal, try to at least drink something substantial. Try a big smoothie with a nutritional boost loaded with carbs and some protein (blend milk, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, oats, protein powder, nuts, honey, etc.).

Some foods can hurt your playing ability and cause you to fatigue early, have pain and cramping during an important game, or play lower than your ability. Be sure to check out my post The Worst Foods to Eat Before Basketball

What Should You Eat 1 Hour Before a Basketball Game?

One hour before playing basketball you should eat something high in carbohydrates with a moderate amount of protein and a low amount of fat and fiber. You don’t want an upset stomach during game time. Your body will be able to efficiently provide you with needed energy and keep you from feeling sluggish and uncomfortable.

If you didn’t have time for a pre-game meal, you can still adequately fuel your body with a snack 1 hour before tip off.

Pre-Game Snack Ideas Include:

  • Fruit and a protein shake
  • PB&J sandwich
  • Energy bar such as a Larabar
  • Greek yogurt with berries and granola
  • Toast with nut butter and a banana
  • Apple slices with peanut butter and crackers
  • Overnight oats
  • Pasta
  • Bagel
  • Lowfat cottage cheese and fruit
  • Cold cereal and milk

Don’t miss: The 25 BEST Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks For a Teenage Athlete

And then you’ll also like: The BEST Post-Workout Snacks for Teenagers – Dietitian Recommended

What Should You Eat The Night Before a Basketball Game? 

Eat a nutritious meal the night before a game and get a good night’s rest. For dinner the night before, you’ll want more carbs than usual, but don’t over-do it.

Pasta is one of the favorite choices because it is easily digestible, helps your body store energy, plus it’s simple to make and tastes delicious. 

Any balanced meal is appropriate the night before a basketball game and will provide needed fuel and nutrients. You don’t need to load up on as many carbohydrates as you can, just eat slightly more than normal. Choose from the same types of healthier carbohydrates: 

  • Pasta- try pasta with chicken, tomato sauce, and some veggies. 
  • Bagels- a bagel sandwich with turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato.
  • Pancakes- try having breakfast for dinner. You could also try oatmeal. 
  • Potatoes- try baked potatoes with some meat and vegetables. Switch it up and use a sweet potato.
  • Rice- stir fry with rice is a great choice. 
  • Tortillas- wraps, loaded quesadillas, etc. (go easy on spicy foods, fatty foods, and beans). 
  • Quinoa- a versatile grain bowl with chicken or shrimp, leafy greens, beans, and veggies.

Choose a meal the night before that is easy on your stomach and won’t cause heartburn, cramping, or digestive issues for the next day. Plan your meal with less emphasis on fatty foods, and more emphasis on carbohydrates, lean proteins, and vegetables.

Spend some time the night before to plan ahead for your pre-workout meal. Pasta is a great choice as a leftover from your meal the night before. It’s also easy to pack in a lunch box.

Why Do Athletes Eat Pasta the Night Before a Game?

The night before the basketball game is still an important time to keep your carbohydrate stores replenished for energy throughout the next day.

Some professional athletes like to start carb-loading a few days before sports events. In preparation for game day, a traditional meal the night before includes loads of pasta.

Pasta is a favorite choice. All types of carbohydrates will work, but starchy carbohydrates, like pasta, are simple to make and popular. Pasta is digested and absorbed at an appropriate rate to fill up your energy stores for later. 

What Happens if You Don’t Eat Before Playing Basketball?

If you don’t eat before a workout you could notice some rough negative effects, such as:

  • low energy and stamina
  • light-headedness
  • nauseous
  • feeling drained and fatigued early
  • slower recovery


  • A pre-workout meal of pasta or other starchy carbohydrates is best eaten 1-4 hours before a basketball game. Practice what timing works best for you.
  • The goal is to start tip off with a mostly empty stomach. Eat enough for fuel to keep you feeling satisfied, but don’t over-do it.
  • Aim for about 70 or more grams of carbohydrates in your pre-game meal. Be sure to also add a moderate amount of protein and plenty of fluid. 
  • The best foods to eat before a basketball game includes healthy carbohydrates that will digest at an efficient rate and store energy for use during your game.
  • Pasta, bagels, potatoes, bread, fruit, rice, cereals, oatmeal, and tortillas are appropriate choices when planned as part of an appropriate, balanced meal. 
  • The traditional athlete-favorite meal of pasta is a great way to carb-load before a game. 

Related Questions

How Long Before Sports Should You Eat? You should eat a pre-workout meal 1-4 hours before sports and you may want to add a snack 30 minutes to 1 hour before any intense training or competition.

Should I Eat Before Or After a Workout? You should always eat before AND after any intense workouts even if it’s just a small snack. It’s important to start exercise fueled and ready to go and it’s equally important to refuel and rehydrate afterwards. Your body only stores small amounts of carbohydrates for energy, so focus on eating those before and after a workout. You’ll also want to add protein after a workout.

Can You Work Out Without Eating All Day? It’s not a good idea to workout when you’ve been fasting or skipping meals. Your energy levels will be low and your body won’t be as effective at using stored fuel. You’ll feel fatigued faster as well as nauseous, light-headed, and tire faster.

See Also

Be sure to check out my newest eBook for the best season of basketball you’ve ever had!

Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

Eat, Play, Win!

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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