After a grueling basketball game, you are exhausted and focused on rest and recovery. Nutrition is a top priority in order to recover, refuel, re-energize, rehydrate, and grow stronger.
The most important nutrients to refuel after a basketball game is carbohydrates, protein, and fluid. Basketball players should choose egg omelets with toast, whole-wheat pasta and meatballs, grilled chicken and sweet potato, tuna sandwiches, oatmeal with protein powder, or a protein smoothie shake.
This post brings you the best post-game nutrition ideas and tips to boost your recovery and improve future basketball performance. Keep reading below to learn about the 3 most important nutrients to include as part of your basketball post-game meal or snack, how much, what, and when to eat. This post covers key nutrients to include in your post-workout meal, when you should eat after a workout or game, and some ideas of the best foods to include. Keep reading to learn how to create the best post-workout or post-game meals and snacks.
What Should Basketball Players Eat After a Basketball Game?
Basketball is a grueling sport and proper nutrition is essential for optimal athletic performance. After a basketball game you need to refuel your body with high quality foods since you’ve burned a ton of calories. Adequate nutrition after an intense workout or game will help you to improve your strength, endurance, stamina, and speed.
Post-game nutrition is essential to help you recover, refuel, rehydrate, build muscles, and improve future performance.
For recovery foods, there are 3 nutrients athletes need to focus on when they refuel after a workout or game: carbohydrates, protein, and fluid.
Post-work out meals: You shouldn’t need to change your diet much- just eating regular and healthy food is adequate. Build a balanced meal around the 3 nutrients, add some fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be getting the right fuel you need post-workout or post-game to refuel, re-energize, and boost your training to adapt your body to perform better.
Important Nutrients to Include in your Post-Workout Meal After a Basketball Game:
Protein is the building block that keep your muscles strong and helps them to grow bigger. You need to eat some protein within 2 hours after you exercise in order to help your muscles recover and strengthen. You’ll want to refuel with protein after exercise as well as throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) to encourage the most muscle growth. Aim for between 15-30 grams of protein post-workout or post-game (or about 0.15 grams or more per pound of bodyweight). Your body can’t effectively process and use much more protein than that, so don’t worry about eating as much as you can. You don’t need to eat too much protein because your body can’t store any extra protein.
I would recommend to eat at least a light snack that includes protein within 2 hours after you exercise. You also want to include some protein foods regularly spaced out during the day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks. You can get protein from animal sources as well as plant sources.
Past research indicated that the quicker that protein (amino acids) got to your muscles, the better. That’s why protein powders and protein bars became so popular, because they are a quick-digested protein source (like whey protein and casein). With newer research, there’s no real evidence that protein powders and protein bars help more than real food. Protein powders and bars can be convenient after a game, but real food is better for teen athletes.
What protein powders and bars are best for teen athletes? Check out my posts: The Best Protein Powders and Shakes for Teen Athletes and Dietitian Recommended Protein and Energy Bars for Teens.
Protein powders aren’t necessary for teenagers and may contain unsafe ingredients. With appropriate planning, you can get plenty of protein from whole foods.
Choose the type of protein you want for your post-basketball meal. If you want something quick and convenient- choose a protein bar or shake. If you want something filling and satisfying- choose real food. Focus on 15-30 grams per snack and meal. Here are some post-workout protein ideas.
Examples of 15-30 Grams of Protein:
- 1 scoop of protein powder (mixed with milk, water, oatmeal, yogurt, or in a shake)
- 1 protein bar (look for protein bars with 15-20 grams of protein, less than 9g of sugar, and less than 5g of saturated fat)
- About 1/2 cup of hummus/beans with vegetables or crackers and 1 slice of cheese
- 2 cups of milk or servings of dairy =
- 2 slices of cheese with crackers
- 2 cups regular yogurt with fruit/granola
- 1 cup cottage cheese with fruit
- 1 cup of greek yogurt
- 2-3 boiled eggs
- 1/2 cup of nuts (but be careful with nuts, they are high in calories too!)
- 1/4 cup of peanut butter- eat with crackers, apples, and celery (but also high in calories)
- 2-4 oz of chicken – about a medium-sized chicken breast
- 3 oz can of tuna with crackers
Don’t listen to the hype about very-low carbohydrate diets, or eliminating carbs. Carbohydrates are your friend during basketball. Carbohydrates (AKA carbs, glucose, sugars, glycogen) are important during basketball games, they are the number 1 preferred fuel source for your muscles during exercise. This is the main source of energy you use during your basketball game and refueling afterwards is essential.
After a game, your body’s storage form of carbohydrates, called glycogen, is depleted and you need to re-fuel. Glycogen stores deplete after 1-3 hours of activity, depending on the intensity. With an intense basketball game you can use your carbohydrate stores quickly. You need to replenish carbohydrates within 2 hours after a game in order to restore these stores.
Carbohydrates adapt the muscle to training so you can perform better next time. With the correct timing of nutrients, your muscles will be better trained to use your glycogen stores effectively and your glycogen stores will increase for longer energy next time. This will help you perform at your top athletic performance for as long as possible.
As part of your pre-game meal, choose quality complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, potatoes, whole-grain breads and pastas. Choose whole wheat and whole grains instead of white breads. Whole grain sources will be the best type of carbohydrates to help you recover and refuel plus they provide additional beneficial nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, and more.
Aim for about 75-100 grams of carbohydrates in your meal.
Examples of Appropriate Carbohydrates as Part of a Basketball Post-Game Meal:
- 2 sandwiches on whole wheat bread
- 2 cups brown rice
- 2 cups whole wheat cereal and 1 cup milk
- 2 cups oatmeal plus 1 medium fruit
- 2 cups whole wheat pasta
- About 3 whole wheat tortillas
- 24 whole grain crackers
- 1 cup corn plus 1 medium baked sweet potato
- 2 cups of cooked quinoa
- 1 medium apple, 1 banana, 1 cup of grapes
- 3 rice cakes with peanut butter, jam, and 2 fruits
Use this list to mix and match! Some of these amounts seem like a lot of one food– you should aim for a balance. Divide up your carbohydrates between a few different foods, try some crackers, some fruit, some vegetables, and some milk to add towards your total carbohydrate intake.
As an additional tip- remember to decrease added sugars! Limit candy, sweets, treats, pastries, and desserts in your diet. These provide carbohydrates, but this is not the best way to fuel your body. Post-game nutrition should be considered part of your training regimen to help prepare your body for the next game. You need the best nutrients and shouldn’t be refueling your body with unhealthy sugary foods.
You also need to rehydrate after a basketball game. During your basketball game, you worked hard and lost water and electrolytes through sweat. It’s important to replenish both water and electrolytes after a basketball game in order to boost recovery and later performance.
Water is appropriate in order to replace your fluid needs. As long as you are eating a balanced meal, your body will get all the nutrients and electrolytes you need as well.
The general recommendation is that you want to drink about 2 cups of water for every pound of weight you lost during activity (from sweat and other water losses). Most people don’t weigh themselves before and after a basketball game, so here are recommendations that are a little easier to remember:
How to Stay Hydrated During Basketball Games:
- Stay hydrated during the day and drink water (not sports drinks or soda).
- 1-2 hours before tip off drink 15-20 ounces of water (that’s about 2-3 cups or 1-2 12 oz water bottles).
- Drink 8 ounces before your game and 8 ounces about every 15 minutes of intense exercise (8 oz equals 1 cup or 3/4 of a 12 oz water bottle each time).
- Hydrate after your game with at least 8-16 ounces of water (1-2 cups or1 water bottle).
Best Post-Game Meal Ideas For a Teenage Basketball Athlete:
It’s also important to note that besides protein, carbohydrates, and fluid to refuel you also need many vitamins and minerals. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and other nutrient-rich foods to your recovery meal will provide your body will all the essential nutrients you need to recover.
With the importance of protein, carbohydrates, fluid, and vitamins and minerals in your post-game meal, it can be overwhelming to know exactly what to eat. Here’s examples of meals that combine the recommendations of 15-30 grams of protein and 75-100 grams of carbohydrates for a perfectly fueling post-basketball game meal.
Best Basketball Post-Game Meal Ideas:
Focus on lean protein, healthy carbs, fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water for your recovery meal. Here are some great meal ideas:
- 1 cup whole-wheat pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs, 2 breadsticks, and 1 cup vegetables.
- Egg omelet with avocado, toast
- Salmon, brown rice, vegetables
- Tuna salad on a whole grain sandwich
- Whole wheat cereal, sliced bananas, and skim milk
- Oatmeal, protein powder, bananas, and sliced nuts
- 2 peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread
- Grilled chicken, 1 medium baked sweet potato, 1 cup black beans
- Quinoa bowl with 2 cups cooked quinoa, black beans, avocado, tomatoes, 3 oz shredded chicken
- Turkey burger
- Chicken and veggie pizza
Don’t forget the fluid. The best options are water, low-fat milk, or a small amount of 100% juice. Stay away from soda, lemonades, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
What about sugar free drinks? Check out: Are Artificial Sweeteners a Good Idea For Teens? Why Sugar-Free Isn’t Always Best
Best Post-Game Snack Ideas for a Teenage Basketball Athlete:
It depends on the timing of your basketball and meals. If you aren’t hungry right after basketball and have a meal planned within a few hours then you’ll at least need a small snack once you finish playing. Here are some perfect ideas for the best ways to refuel with snacks:
- Chocolate milk (contains protein, carbohydrates, and fluid)
- Protein shake with 1 banana, 1 cup milk, 1 scoop protein powder
- Greek yogurt with berries and granola
- Hummus, whole-wheat crackers, vegetables, and 1 apple
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Rice cakes with peanut butter, fruit
- 3 oz can of tuna with crackers
- 2-3 boiled eggs
- Trail mix with string cheese
- Energy bar (I love Larabars– made with dried fruit and nuts)
For more ideas, see: The BEST Post-Workout Snacks for Teenagers – Dietitian Recommended!
Need more help with your basketball meal plan? Check out my Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players eBook
When Should You Eat After a Basketball Game?
If you aren’t ready for a meal, at least try to eat a balanced snack within 1-2 hours after a basketball game. See above for the best post-basketball meals and snacks.
You may not be hungry right away after training or a game, that’s okay. A small snack and plenty of water is sufficient until your next meal. The key is quality, not necessarily quantity.
The Bottom Line
- Your post-basketball game should include high-quality carbohydrates, high-quality protein, plenty of fluid, healthy fats, and some fruits and vegetables.
- Some of the best post-workout meals include oatmeal, rice bowls, peanut butter sandwiches, grilled chicken and baked sweet potatoes, chocolate milk, a protein shake, and egg omelet with toast.
- Eat your post-game meal or snacks within 1-2 hours after exercise so your body can effectively utilize the nutrients to refuel energy stores and rebuild muscle.
What Do NBA Players Eat on Game Day? NBA players fill up on eggs, oatmeal, fruit, shakes, and more for breakfast and salads, wraps, pastas, sandwiches, chicken, fish, etc. for lunch and dinner. Each player is different with personal routines, habits, tolerance, and food preferences that affect performance.
What Do Basketball Players Eat for Lunch? Basketball players choose nutrient-rich foods for lunch, especially on game day. Examples include pasta and chicken, eggs and toast, oatmeal, sandwiches, protein and rice bowls, etc.
What Should a Basketball Player Eat After a Game? NBA players eat high amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fluid after a game to refuel and help with recovery. Examples include protein shakes, fruit, whole grains, chicken or fish.
What Do NBA Players Drink? NBA players stay hydrated before a basketball game with fluids during the day from water, milk, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, and fruit and vegetable smoothies, but mostly water. Avoiding soda and other sugary beverages, beverages with caffeine or carbonation, and sports drinks or energy drinks before a game is important.
What Do NBA Players Eat and Drink Before a Game? The pros report eating anything from PB&J to pasta before a big game. Want to eat like LeBron James? He follows a broad eating plan and is said to eat chicken, pasta, and veggies for his pre-game meal and later a protein shake and some fruit for a pre-game snack. The important key component in his pre-game food plan is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are especially an important focus before a game to fuel muscles for exercise.
- The 25 BEST Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks For a Teenage Athlete
- Is it Easy to Lose Weight as a Teenager?
- The Best Time to Eat Carbs Before Basketball
- Nutrition Meal Plan for Teenage Basketball Players
- How Many Calories Does a High School Basketball Player Need?
Written by Katherine Harmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
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