Should You Eat Before Playing Basketball? Tips from a Nutrition Expert

Written by Katherine Harmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

You need to start a basketball game with the greatest amount of fuel stored in order to play at your top potential for the longest amount of time. That means you need to plan out your meals and snacks the day of your basketball game. Timing is essential.

The answer is yes, you need to eat a pre-workout meal 3-4 hours before basketball and a pre-workout snack 30 minutes to 2 hours before a basketball game. The best pre-game meals are high in carbohydrates and fluid and are easy on your stomach.

You don’t want to play on a full stomach, but you need enough food to store energy to fuel your muscles during a high-intensity game.

Keep reading to find the best tips for what and when you should eat before a basketball game.

When Should You Eat Before a Basketball Game?

Eating the right foods and right amounts is key for a basketball player to maintain the highest energy levels during a basketball game.

The timing of your pre-game meals and snacks is essential. Plan your food so that you are eating close enough to game time to have a maximum amount of stored energy, but not too soon before the game that you end up playing basketball on a full stomach. It takes some practice to see what works for you individually to find the best pre-game meal window and personal tolerance. 

In general, a high school basketball athlete should eat between 1-4 hours before a basketball game. Do a trial run on days you have basketball practice and see how you feel and how you perform after your pre-workout meal. It’s best to eat a little too early, because you can always add a quick snack before tip off for some additional fuel.

Many players find they do best with a pre-game meal about 2 hours before the game. Do some trial runs on a practice day to see what works best for you individually without upsetting your stomach. Start by eating your pre-workout meal 3-4 hours before basketball and then add a small snack 30 minutes to 2 hours before. Adjust as needed to fuel your game. 

Prioritize nutrition for your best season of basketball yet! Check out my Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players eBook.

I also have a free sample meal plan for basketball athletes.

What Should I Eat Before Playing Basketball?

Whether it is an intense day of training or a basketball game, you need to properly prepare a nutrition plan to fuel your activity. Be smart about your meals and snacks during the day and the timing of when you eat.

To fuel your basketball game, you should focus on 2 key nutrients for your pre-game meals and snacks- carbohydrates and protein, as well as some other vitamins and minerals, and of course water.

See also: The 25 BEST Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks For a Teenage Athlete

How to Plan Your Pre- Workout Meal or Snack:


Carbohydrates (or sugar) is the main form of energy your body prefers to use to fuel your muscles during exercise. The good news about carbs is that your body can store them (in limited amounts) for use throughout the day.

You want to start a basketball game with your carbohydrate storage levels topped off and ready to provide energy for as long as possible during a vigorous basketball game. You need your muscles to have as much stored energy as possible.

Carbohydrates are natural sugars found in foods such as starchy vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and grains. You’ll want at least 30-60 grams of carbohydrates before a game, some athletes need up to 150 grams.

Some of the best pre-game choices for carbs are starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, bagels, potatoes and sweet potatoes, fruit, bread, rice, corn, cereal, oatmeal, tortillas, and more. These forms of carbohydrates are digested at an appropriate rate to provide you with a consistent energy source over the next few hours.

You need to continually refill your carbohydrate stores throughout the day before, during, and after a basketball game. A sports drink or small amount of carbs may be appropriate during your basketball game when you are exerting yourself intensely in order to replenish your body’s carbohydrate stores. Choose a sports drink (like Gatorade or Powerade), whole fruit, dried fruit, or fruit juice.


While protein only contributes a small amount of energy during your game, you need protein because it helps repair your muscle tissue. You need a moderate amount of protein in a pre-game meal, save your high-protein shakes and bars for after the game. 

Choose lean proteins like chicken breast, ground turkey, tuna fish, or peanut butter, a protein bar, dairy products like Greek yogurt, etc.

Consume around 15-30 grams of protein at each meal and snack during the day. 

See also:

Vitamins and Minerals

Athletes need other nutrients for an overall healthy body with proper function during a basketball game. You don’t need expensive fancy supplements to be healthy. If you choose an overall balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, you’ll be able to provide your body with an appropriate balance and variety of all the nutrients it needs. 

See also: Best Supplements for Teenage Athletes


Don’t forget to properly hydrate yourself before a basketball game. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and during your sporting event. While juices and sports drinks can help, water is best for hydration.

Check out my post Should Basketball Players drink Gatorade? for other tips when sports drinks might be appropriate. 

Some foods can negatively impact your playing ability and cause you to fatigue early, experience stomach pain and cramping, or otherwise hurt your athletic ability. 

Foods to Avoid Before Basketball

The foods that will negatively affect your playing ability on the court include

  • fatty foods
  • caffeine
  • carbonated beverages
  • alcohol, see: Do Basketball Players Drink Alcohol?f
  • artificial sweeteners
  • gassy foods (broccoli and beans, watch out for hummus)
  • desserts
  • energy drinks
  • too spicy foods
  • too much fat
  • too much sugar
  • too many processed foods
  • Some people are also sensitive to too much dairy or high-fiber foods.

See: The Worst Foods to Eat Before Basketball

How to Gain Weight and Muscle – for Teen Basketball Players

The Best Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Basketball

Here are some options that include carbohydrates, some protein, and nutritious foods.

  • Protein smoothie with Greek yogurt, chia or flax seeds, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, and your choice of milk. You can also add protein powder if needed (but there’s plenty of protein already from the yogurt, seeds, and milk. You can also add oats and nut butter). Drink half before your workout and half after.
  • 1 scoop of protein powder in milk, water, or in a shake. Eat with a piece of fruit
  • 1 string cheese and 1 Larabar (my favorite energy bar)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt parfait with granola and fruit
  • Small handful (1/4 cup) of trail mix nuts and dried fruit
  • Granola bar (look for lower added sugar and higher protein)
  • 1/4 cup hummus with 6 whole wheat crackers and veggies
  • 8 oz juice and a hard-boiled egg
  • Apple, banana, crackers, and/or celery with 1-2 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • Rice cakes with 1 Tablespoon nut butter and a banana
  • Oatmeal with a nut butter or protein powder, and fruit
  • 1 cup pasta with chicken
  • Bagel with 1 Tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese and fruit
  • 1.5 cups cold cereal and 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup almonds and 1 apple
  • Toast with 1 Tablespoon peanut butter and banana
  • String cheese, apple slices, 6 whole wheat crackers
  • 1/2 cup pretzels and 1 Tablespoon peanut butter
  • PB&J sandwich
  • Energy bar – such as Larabar
  • 1 cup juice and 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • String cheese and 4 oz applesauce plus 1 cup 100% juice

What Should I Eat An Hour Before Basketball?

Many athletes prefer their pre-workout meal about 1-2 hours before basketball. If you prefer to eat 3-4 hours before the game, you might find that a snack about 1 hour before tip off is appropriate to help you feel energized throughout your game. 

Right before basketball you’ll want to focus on eating plenty of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and making sure you are properly hydrated. 

The best foods to eat right before basketball include bananas, grapes, dried fruit, toast, crackers, a granola bar, or trail mix. You can add a moderate amount of protein such as Greek yogurt, milk, hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, trail mix, peanut butter, etc. Go easy on the fiber and fat, you don’t want to experience digestion issues and an upset stomach while you’re on the court.

What Should I Eat the Morning of a Basketball Game?

Another popular question is about breakfast the day of a basketball game. Make your breakfast meal high in carbohydrates, lean protein, water, and go easy on the fat. Stay away from sugary breakfast options such as cereals, pastries, muffins, waffles.

Plan your breakfast around healthy carbohydrates. Choose a whole-grain cereal such as oatmeal and pair it with a glass of juice, banana, and toast. If you have a hard time consuming a big meal for breakfast, choose a fruit smoothie instead.

Best Breakfast Options for a Basketball Player:

  • Oatmeal, juice, and toast
  • Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola
  • Whole wheat cereal, fruit, and milk
  • Eggs, pancakes, and milk
  • Fruit and veggie smoothie
  • Hard-boiled eggs and toast with nut butter
  • Bagel with nut butter and yogurt
  • Avocado toast with egg

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

If you don’t start a basketball game with your tank full of fuel, you’ll have low blood sugars and you’ll feel more fatigued, light-headed, and slow with less stamina because your body will have to use backup energy sources.

You don’t need to play on a full stomach; choose a small snack before you hit the court.

The Bottom Line

  • Basketball athletes should always eat within 1-4 hours before a basketball game to make sure they have enough stored energy to fuel their muscles. 
  • The best pre-game meals focus on carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, vitamins and minerals, and water. 
  • Experiment to find the best pre-game meal timing that works for you so you aren’t playing on a full stomach, but gives you enough energy to fuel your game.

Related Questions

What Do NBA Players Eat Before a Game? Some favorite pre-game meals and snacks for NBA players include chicken with pasta and vegetables, a big salad, PB&J sandwiches, or a protein and fruit shake.

Is It OK to Not Eat Before Working Out? It’s okay to exercise on an empty stomach if your workout isn’t very intense or very long (less than 60 minutes). If you exercise vigorously enough that you are heavily sweating, then you should eat something beforehand. Even eating a tiny snack is better than nothing.

What is the Best Food to Eat 2 Hours Before a Game? Before a game you should eat fruit, 100% fruit juice, protein and fruit smoothies, sandwiches, wraps, pasta, cereal, or bagels. Choose something with carbohydrates and some protein.

What are Good Snacks for Sports? Some of the best snacks for sports include fruit, dried fruit, 100% fruit juice, crackers, homemade oatmeal energy balls, energy bars such as Larabars, or homemade protein shakes made with Greek yogurt, nut butter, seeds, milk, and frozen fruits/veggies.

What is the Best Food to Eat Before Playing Sports? Some of the best foods to eat before playing sports is whole fruit such as bananas, dried fruit such as dates, PB&J sandwiches, bagels and nut butter, Greek yogurt with berries, or a homemade protein and fruit smoothie.

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Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

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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