What Do Basketball Players Eat Before a Game? -From a Dietitian

With everyone claiming to be a nutrition coach these days, it can be difficult to know what to put into practice before a big game. What do basketball players eat before a game? Does it really make that much of a difference for playing ability?

Some favorite pre-game food choices for professional basketball players include: pasta, PB&J sandwiches, fruit, sweet potatoes, and homemade protein shakes. It can seem trendy to do what the NBA players do, but remember that growing teen athletes are a lot different than NBA players. Check with a nutrition expert to up-level your eating plan- that’s a dietitian.

Read on to learn more about what basketball players eat before a game. See how your eating plan stacks up to NBA players — and what I recommend as a dietitian.  

What do NBA Players Eat 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.

What Should You Eat Before a Basketball Game?

“Carb-loading” is a popular practice, but too many refined carbohydrates that are low in levels of vitamins and minerals your body needs can harm your endgame in terms of health. Focus on energy-inducing and nutrient-rich carbohydrate options. These include foods such as the following: 

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain tortillas
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Oats
  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Rice or quinoa

Try to limit intake of food items that are fried or have added sugars, trans or saturated fats, or foods that can trigger sensitivities. These foods are known to cause inflammation and can interfere with performance or recovery. 

Start with Breakfast and Beyond

According to Sports Dietitian Tavis Plattoly, the following statistics are common of young athletes: 

  • 30% do not eat breakfast
  • 50% eat a high-fat, high-calorie “alternative” lunch instead of a nutrient-rich regular lunch
  • Many experience rules and regulations against eating or drinking during school hours
  • Most go into practice on fewer than 1000 calories and in the early stages of dehydration

Although it may seem like time is limited, it is incredibly important to invest in nutrition. In other words, as a teenager or as the parent of a teen, prioritizing nutrition can improve performance. Make a plan, especially for game day, for meals and snacks.

Easy Tips to Implement on Game Day

  1. Eat Breakfast: Start the day off right by eating a balanced morning meal made of nutrient-rich foods. Focus on healthy carbohydrates and protein.
  2. Pre-game Meal Menu: Have a couple of go-to combinations for when you are in a time crunch. For example, create an easy formula such as “lean meat + whole grain + fruit or veggie + hydrating drink”. This can help you or your teen to create healthy meals even in a time crunch. 
  3. Watch the toppings: Many extra or unneeded calories can be added through too many toppings. Be judicious with the extras and add-ons, especially when ordering out. Focus on sauces or dips that are made with healthier oils and spices, such as olive oil or mustard. 
  4. Leaving proper time for digestion, eating foods that fuel, and focusing on recovery are all crucial components. Hydration is also a key player.

Know Your Anti-Inflammatory Foods

The following food items are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Try experimenting with them today before practice so you can add them to your teen’s game day ritual or routine soon: 

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Raw nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Fatty fish
  • Vegetables, especially cruciferous such as broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens (be aware that some may cause gut discomfort during games, depending on personal tolerance)
  • Fruits, especially apples and berries
  • Spices such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic
  • Cacao 
  • Tea (be cautious with caffeine)

How Many Hours Should You Eat Before a Basketball Game?

It is often said in sports nutrition that when you eat is just as important as what you eat. For proper digestion, allow two to three hours for a meal (i.e. breakfast or lunch) prior to an athletic event. 

Listen to your body’s cues — don’t overeat or undereat. It is important for your body to have sufficient fuel, so try to load up on nutrient-rich foods without sending your systems into overload. 

If you eat a fueling meal 2-3 hours before a game, that still leaves room for a small snack, if you need it, 30 minutes to 1 hour before tip off. Knowing your personal tolerance for playing on a full or empty stomach is important to put into practice before game day!

Do NBA Players Eat During Halftime?

Another question about the pros eating habits is what do NBA players eat during the game? You don’t ever see them eating while on the bench, but many pro athletes have been reported as eating fruit, PB&J sandwiches, and other small carbohydrate snacks during halftime. Plus, Gatorade has sponsored the NBA and the players are often re-fueling with carbohydrates from Gatorade during the game as well as water.

Should You Eat During Halftime?

During gametime, light snacks are recommended such as hydrating fruits and whatever else is easy on your stomach. Sports dietitians also recommend ingesting a combination of electrolyte and carbohydrate fortified beverages (sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade etc.) if your exercise is intense and you are sweating heavily. You can also eat fruit, fruit juice, or dried fruit for similar results.

What Do NBA Basketball Players Eat After a Game?

Sports Dietitian Meg Mangano, who helps fuel NBA All-Star Blake Griffin as the sports dietitian for the LA Clippers, recognizes the importance of enhancing performance as well as protecting the body through food. “Exercise is important to good health,” she says, but  “fueling to enhance and protect your body from the effect of exercise is often overlooked!”

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 Should You Eat After a Basketball Game?

Exercise can help to keep teens healthy, but the body also experiences physical wear and tear from the activity. The hormones and inflammatory responses that exercise produces in the body can lead to chronic inflammation when recovery nutrition and rest are not implemented. In other words, a post-workout nutrition plan is crucial.

Here are the main focuses for your post-workout meal: protein, carbohydrates, fluid, and other nutrients. Fuel your body properly to promote healthy post-exercise recovery:


Most basketball players make sure to get a healthy serving of protein-packed food following a game. Research shows that the timing of protein has a unique role in recovery. High-quality protein consumed within two hours after exercise can encourage muscle tissue repair as well as growth. Found in the following foods, high-quality protein can enhance exercise recovery: 

  • Lean meat
  • Fish 
  • Eggs
  • Dairy 
  • Soy 

Carbohydrates and Nutrient-rich Foods

Foods with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy carbohydrates can help the body refuel and recover. For example, the following foods are great options for a post-game snack or meal: 

  • Bananas
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt (i.e. yogurt parfait)
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Sliced fresh fruit
  • Berries
  • Smoothies
  • Whole-grains (i.e. whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain cereal)
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Poultry or Seafood
  • Vegetables (i.e. side green salad)


Training sessions and games lasting over an hour result in athletes having a larger loss of fluid through sweat. Properly rehydrating can: 

  • Improve endurance
  • Reduce cortisol (stress hormone) response 
  • Decrease the risk of dehydration harming exercise performance

How Many Calories Do NBA Players Eat in a Day?

NBA players eat around 5,000 calories or more per day depending on individual training amount, health goals, weight/height, and more.

How Many Calories Do You Need in a Day for Basketball?

Teen basketball players need around 2,400 calories per day for females and 3,00 calories per day for males. This also depends on gender, size, age, training amount, health goals, and more. Estimate your own calories needs here: How Many Calories Should a Teenage Athlete Eat? Ask A Dietitian

What Do NBA Players Eat in a 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 habits, tolerance, and food preferences that affect performance.

When determining what an NBA player eats, it is important to look at the overall eating pattern. While an athlete may claim that one certain food is the source of their energy, improved performance is likely a combination of all-around healthy habits

Many NBA players treat their body like a machine, they have to take perfect care of it for it to work properly and at top performance. They have specific nutrition plans and avoid eating overly processed, unhealthy foods.

What Should You Eat In a Day for Basketball?

Teen basketball players should have an overall balanced meal plan focused on healthy carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, healthy fats. Limit processed food, fast food, desserts and treats, sugary beverages, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and excessive amounts of protein.

One of the most important recommendations when it comes to intake for athletes is that consumption of food, especially protein, should be spaced throughout the day. Eating times should be thoughtful and intentional, and should accommodate workouts with consideration to what would best benefit recovery. 

Check out my free meal plan for help: Nutrition Meal Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

I also have a 5-week basketball meal plan eBook with tips and tricks including what/when/how much to eat, supplement recommendations, hydration tips, how to gain/lose weight for basketball, and more!

Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players eBook

How Much Protein?

With so much speculation about the proper amount of protein, it can be difficult to know how much protein is needed to repair and strengthen muscle. While many athletes highlight the higher levels of protein in their diet, the ones who generally experience the best health long-term are the athletes who eat a balanced, varied diet. 

In other words, just eating large amounts of protein doesn’t mean that larger muscle mass will result. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics puts it perfectly: “Muscle growth happens only when exercise and nutrition are combined.” 

Should Teen Athletes Supplement?

Most athletes can meet their protein needs through food alone. However many use protein powders or supplements due to the convenience — for example, after a game when immediate protein is needed but access to food items may be limited. These products are not necessary but high-quality items can be used to benefit the overall health of the athlete. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that in general, the use of supplements in young athletes is not justified due to the many factors influencing performance gains. These include maturation in age, sports experience, and the development of a sports nutrition plan. In general, it is recommended to meet nutrition needs through food first, and then to take a look at supplements.

My review of the best supplements for teen athletes can help you to make an informed decision. If you have any doubts, questions or concerns, it is important to discuss them with your dietitian. Your qualified healthcare providers can help distinguish which products will potentially improve your performance as well as benefit your overall health beyond gameday. 

See also: Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend

Meeting All the Needs — Not Just Protein

Athletes who consume the correct amount of carbohydrates and fat as well as protein use less protein for energy compared to those consuming high-protein diets. Protein needs are higher, in general, for athletes. However, they are not as high as commonly thought. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This range depends on several factors, such as the ones listed in the following section. 

Other Factors

Every athlete has a unique set of needs. Each NBA player consults with a team dietitian or a member of their staff so that duration, intensity, and other factors regarding the physical activity involved in the sport are taken into consideration. 

For example, needs can vary based on whether athletes are in off-season, training, competing, or have a certain level of experience or conditioning

What do NBA Players Drink Before a Game?

NBA players focus on fluids that help them stay hydrated and combat loss through excessive sweating.

Hydration is important because it allows the body to regulate temperature and cool effectively. Having the proper levels of hydration makes it so the body can stay focused on the physical activity instead of causing an unnecessary elevation in heart rate. 

What Should You Drink Before a Basketball Game?

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. Avoid soda and other sugary beverages, beverages with caffeine or carbonation, and sports drinks or energy drinks before a game.

Baller Moves Begin with the Brain

Did you know fluids are essential for mental function? Having enough fluid to stay hydrated is essential to decision-making, concentration, and even motor control. Proper hydration aids the body in removing waste, delivering nutrients, and recovering from training and competition. 

Keeping Teenage Athletes Hydrated

Young athletes should begin hydrating early in the day, even before stepping out onto the court. Water should be the go-to drink for exercise that is less than one hour in duration, and hydration should continue during play. Experts recommend at least ½ cup of water every 15 minutes to stay properly hydrated. 

Got Milk?

Low-fat or fat-free milk can help teenage basketball players and athletes meet their hydration needs. Milk not only fulfills fluid requirements but also delivers 8 grams of protein in each one cup serving. As a bonus, it contains calcium, a mineral crucial to building strong and healthy bones and helping muscles contract properly and help protect against injury. 

Easy Hydration Tips for Teens

Stay hydrated with the following helpful tips.

  1. Carry a water bottle with you 24/7. This will help to make water your go-to drink and improve your chances of engaging in healthy hydration habits. 
  2. Infuse it. Infused water can add flavor and fun to an otherwise boring bottle of water. Try lemon, lime, cucumber, or other fruits.
  3. Pre-game your water consumption. As the saying goes, “if you’re already thirsty, it’s probably too late.” Thirst is usually a poor indicator of fluid status, so it is important to stay on the ball by hydrating early and effectively. 
  4. Don’t forget — water is in foods, too! Water-rich foods such as cucumbers, melons, and more can help to add a bit of hydration to your teen’s diet. 
  5. Be mindful of weather and wear. Humid conditions and unnecessary layers of clothing can add degrees to your body temperature. This in turn taxes your body and takes energy away from athletic activity. Be sure to take the weather conditions into account, and plan to wear the proper active wear that will accommodate your ability to play the game. 

The Bottom Line

Each athlete fuels differently, but for every athlete it is essential to invest in proper nutrition. A car runs at its best when you pump it full of the right kind of gasoline. The same is true of teen athletes. Working with a dietitian to create a game plan for proper hydration, digestion, and recovery can certainly improve athletic ability and ensure overall health. 

Related Questions

How Can I Get More Energy for a Basketball Game? The best things you can do to get more energy for a basketball game is to stay hydrated during the day, eat plenty of healthy carbohydrates- especially as a pre-workout snack, drink a sports drink with electrolytes during intense exercise, and don’t forget warm-up stretches.

What is a Good Breakfast for a Basketball Player? The best breakfasts for basketball players include healthy carbohydrates, 15-30 grams of protein, healthy fats, and fluid. Examples include oatmeal and fruit, egg omelettes and whole wheat muffins or bagels, avocado and egg toast, homemade protein shakes (made with Greek yogurt, milk, seeds, nut butter), Greek yogurt with granola and berries, or breakfast burritos.

What are Healthy Snacks for Athletes? Some of the best snacks for athletes include a handful of trail mix and dried fruit, fruit and string cheese, cottage cheese and fruit slices, hummus and whole wheat crackers and veggies, PB&J sandwiches, LARABARS, Greek yogurt and berries, and apple slices with peanut butter.

How Long After a Game Should You Eat? It’s important to refuel and rehydrate after basketball. You need to eat within 2 hours after a basketball game. Refuel with carbohydrates, protein, and plenty of fluid!

See Also


Caspero A. Protein and the Athlete — How Much Do You Need? Eatright.org. Published July 20, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete 

Castle J. 8 Gameday Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes. Eatright.org. Published October 25, 2017. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/tips-for-athletes/gameday-nutrition-tips-for-young-athletes 

Plattoly T. What are some great Pre-Game Meal Options for an Evening Competition. Mysportsrd.com 2021. https://www.mysportsd.com/pregamemealforeveninggames 

Plattoly T. What is Unique about an Athlete and Having  a Plan for Nutrition. Mysportsrd.com 2021. https://www.mysportsd.com/uniqueathleticeatingplan 

Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(3):501-528. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006 

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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