The Best Time to Eat Pasta Before Football- According to a Dietitian

Pasta is a traditional pre-game meal to help football athletes carb-load. Before a football game an appropriate pre-game meal of starchy carbs is essential.

A pre-workout meal full of carbohydrates, like pasta, should be eaten between 1-4 hours before a football practice or game. You need time to start digesting the pasta before you start playing. This loads up your body with easy energy and will fuel you throughout your match.

You’ve heard that the pros like to fuel up on pasta, the traditional carb-loading favorite meal before a big game. You’ll definitely need to be playing at the top of your ability with tons of energy, and pasta is a pretty good idea to help you stock up and store the carbohydrates that you need to energize your game.

Nutrition is just as serious as training when it comes to reaching your top athletic performance during a football game. Football players expend maximum energy during their plays so their energy stores need to be adequately stocked to meet these needs. Carbohydrate intake is what will help you have the quick bursts of energy that you need to compete at your top game.

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

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Should You Eat Right Before Playing Football?  

Yes you should eat something in the hours before playing football. It’s important to start a game with the most amount of fuel your body can use throughout the high-intensity of football.

When Should You Eat Pasta Before a Football Game?

Eating the right type and amount of healthy carbs can be the key to help a player maintain the best energy levels during a football 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 football on a full stomach. It takes some practice and individualization to find the best pre-game meal window for each football athlete.

A high school athlete should eat pasta between 1-4 hours before a football game. Pre-game meals full of carbohydrates, such as pasta, will help to boost performance during a football 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 take to the field for your game. 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 kickoff.

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.

What about the night before a football game? 

Eat well 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. See my section below for more details.

How Much Should You Eat Before a Game?

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.

Some professional football 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 carbs than normal in your meal, but not an excessive amount. You don’t have to stuff yourself full of pasta. The average player will need about 70+ grams of carbohydrates in their pre-game meal.

What does that look like? (carbs are an approximate amount).

  • 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. (Remember it’s okay to have white bread in this situation.) 
  • 3 pancakes =66 grams of carbohydrates. Add some nut spread, syrup, jam, or fruit. 

Choose a meal that is easily-portable to bring with you to school during the day so you can eat 1-4 hours before your football game. Learn to listen to your body’s hunger cues. Eat a good-sized portion, but don’t overeat. You don’t need to eat as many carbs as you can, just a healthy amount.

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

Carbohydrates (also known as carbs, sugar) is 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. Foods high in carbs aren’t usually recommended for a healthy diet, but right before a game they will give you a much needed energy boost.

What are good pre-game choices for carbs? All types of carbohydrates will work, 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 a few hours.

Best Carbohydrate Choices Before a Football Game:

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

You should usually choose whole-grain pasta and other grains for meals, but right before a game isn’t the most important time because whole-wheat can cause bloating and discomfort during your game. It’s okay to stick with white pasta in this situation.

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.).

Limit your intake of processed carbohydrates such as sugary cereal, candy, soda, and dessert. Try to stay away from fatty foods and high-fiber foods. Too many fatty foods can cause an upset stomach during playing time.

If you eliminate these foods before a game, your body will be able to more efficiently give you needed energy and keep you from feeling sluggish and uncomfortable.

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 on The Worst Foods to Eat Before Football  in order to keep you playing at the top of your ability, fueled by only the best food sources.

Why Do Athletes Eat Pasta the Night Before a Game?

The night before the football 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 a great choice. They are digested and absorbed at an appropriate rate to fill up your energy stores for later. 

What Should I Eat the Night Before a Football Game?

The night before an important football game is just as important as the day of. Make sure to eat a nutritious meal for dinner and get enough sleep. 

Any balanced meal is appropriate the night before a football game and will provide needed fuel and nutrients. You don’t need to load up on as many carbohydrates as you can, but eat 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. 
  • Rice -stir fry with rice is a great choice. 
  • Tortillas -wraps, loaded quesadillas, etc. (go easy on spicy foods, fatty foods, and beans). 

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

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

Spend some time the night before to plan ahead for your pre-game meal the next day before your football game. Choose a carbohydrate that is portable to bring with you. Pasta is a great choice as a leftover from your meal the night before. It’s easy to pack in a lunch box- just reheat it. 

Need some meal inspiration? Check out my FREE meal plan for high school football athletes.

For more tips, check out my Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football Players ebook. All the information you need in one place for your best season of football!

Related Posts:


  • A pre-workout meal of pasta or other starchy carbohydrates is best eaten 1-4 hours before a football game. Practice what works best for you.
  • The goal is to start kickoff 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 football 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. 

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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