The Worst Foods to Eat Before Football

Football season– It’s game day and you need to fuel yourself with the best pre-game meal to provide you with major performance benefits. Here’s the list of foods to avoid before a football game, as well as recommendations for best pre-game meals. 

Worst Foods to Eat Before Football

You know a lot of the best foods for fuel, but what should you NOT eat before a football game?

Just because you’ve been working your hardest all week and eating right, doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want on game day. You need to be focused so you can give it your all and be at the top of your game. Nutrition is as big of a deal as training.

What foods should you avoid before a football game? You can probably guess that fatty foods and desserts are on the list, but the other items might surprise you.

Get the list below. Start small and make simple improvements to your nutrition plan and you will notice major performance benefits.

Keep reading for a list of foods that athletes should not eat before a football game. This post will also discuss what types of foods you should eat on game day and how to best fuel yourself for a game.

Looking for a little more help and nutrition guidance this season? I’ve got you covered

Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football Ebook

All you need to know for a healthy football season! Including a 28-day meal plan, snack idea list, tips for what, when, and how much to eat for football, plus more. Fuel up for your best football season yet and rise above the competition!

Click here for more information.

Foods to Avoid Before Playing Football: 

There are certain foods you definitely don’t want to eat before playing football. It will benefit you to avoid these food items throughout your season, and before practices as well, but you’ll for sure want to stay away from these types of foods and drinks the day of your game. This list is made up of food that will cause discomfort and an upset stomach, as well as foods that will negatively affect your performance. 

Here’s the list. Don’t eat these foods the day of a football game:

Fatty Foods– including any fried food, french fries, hamburgers, fried chicken, greasy pizza, bacon. You will have an upset stomach with possible bloating, pain, and diarrhea.

Caffeine– soda, tea, and coffee will not be your friends before a football game, especially if they have excess sugar and calories. Caffeine can actually negatively affect your hydration status. Hydrate with plain water. (note: small amounts of caffeine may help during exercise, but there’s negative effects as well).

Carbonated Beverages– the air bubbles from the carbonation will stay in your stomach for an unpleasant indigestion experience. Any sugary beverage is not a great choice.

Alcohol- Alcoholic beverages don’t count towards your hydration. They have diuretic properties and are dehydrating. Plus exercising under the influence is a terrible idea and can lead to injury.

Artificial Sweeteners– Be careful with your consumption of artificial sweeteners. They can affect digestion and cause an upset stomach which is not desirable on game day. Stay away from any candy, sports drinks, diet soda, etc. which are labeled with “zero calories” or “zero sugar” (for example: Gatorade Zero and other sports drinks).

Gassy Foods– such as beans (watch out for hummus), and cruciferous vegetables cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. You don’t want to be embarrassed or feeling intestinal discomfort during your game.

Desserts- especially pastries, doughnuts, cakes, muffins, ice cream, and cookies. These are high in all the wrong types of nutrients and are not what you want in your body for fuel when you’re trying to perform at your best.

Spicy Foods- Know your personal limit here. You don’t want to have heartburn during a game. Be careful with mexican foods, asian foods, and salsas. Bland, easy-to-digest foods are best.

Energy Drinks- you heard me right. Which energy drink does your team swear by for performance enhancement? While popular among football players, skip the energy drink.

They are usually carbonated and full of sugar and too much caffeine (some caffeine may help during a workout- but there’s negative effects as well). Some sports drinks might be helpful, but energy drinks typically contain too many ingredients you want to avoid.

Foods to Limit Before a Football Game:

This next list is foods that might be okay to eat before your game, but within reason. An appropriate portion is fine, but a larger portion could negatively affect your playing ability. Moderation in all things is best.

Here’s the list of pre-game foods to limit: 

Fiber– again this one is important due to possible stomach problems. Eat some fruit and vegetables the day of your game, but don’t over-do it.

Fat– fats take the longest to digest of the macronutrients. Fat is necessary for any balanced diet, but you will want to eat a low amount before football games. Proteins and carbohydrates process faster and give you an energy boost. A fatty meal could sit in your stomach for hours and cause discomfort while you play.

Sugar– it can give you quick energy, but then you’ll feel a “crash” later on as your blood sugar drops and you will actually feel more fatigued. If you didn’t plan your pre-game meals and snacks properly then some quick sugar right before a game is appropriate.

You might also be accustomed to having some sugar during the game (sports drinks, gels, candy) to quickly refuel your body’s stores of carbohydrates, but you don’t need very much.

Protein -protein takes longer to digest than starch. Eat a moderate amount of protein in your pre-game meal. You won’t want it in large quantities before a football game. Shoot for 15-25 grams of protein in your pre-game meal and 15 grams in your snack. After a football game is the best time for protein.

Processed Foods- Limit the processed foods you eat during game day. You don’t want to fuel your tank with chips, pretzels, crackers, and other processed snacks. Have appropriate pre-game meals and snacks.

Dairy Products-  Know your personal limits with dairy. Some people are more sensitive to dairy and develop stomachaches and cramps. While chocolate milk can be a great post-game recovery drink, try not to consume dairy 1-2 hours before a game if you are sensitive to dairy.

What is the Best Food to Eat Before a Football Game? 

Now you know the list of the foods to avoid, here’s the types of fuel you will want for your pre-game meal before your football game. Fuel up on a balanced meal a few hours before a game, then add a snack and you’ll be ready to go at your top performance.

Carbohydrates –

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. Carbs are your friend– game day is not the time to try any low-carb diet to lose weight.

The good news about carbohydrates is that your body can store a certain amount for later, about the amount that will fuel 1 hour’s worth of physical activity. That means carbs are so important to consume throughout the day before a game. You want your muscles to have as much stored energy as possible.

You can only store some carbs and you’ll need to be continually refilling your stores throughout the day in order to perform at your top potential. It’s important to note that a sports drink or small amount of carbs may be appropriate during your football game when you are exerting yourself super hard in order to replenish your body’s carbohydrate stores.

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 are your friend. They break down and can be stored as glycogen effectively. These will be digested at an appropriate rate to provide the body a consistent source of energy over a few hours.

Choose carbs from healthier options such as pasta, potatoes, bread, fruit, vegetables, rice, cereals, oatmeal, tortillas, etc. Limit intake of processed carbohydrates such as white bread, sugary cereal, and dessert. (It’s okay to choose white over wheat right before a game because whole wheat options have more fiber and may cause bloating for some).

You’ll want around 70 grams or more carbohydrates as part of your pre-game meal and about 30 grams as part of your snack.


Protein only contributes a small amount to providing fuel during your game. You need protein because it is made up of the building blocks for making muscles and other tissue in your body.

Your body needs a moderate amount in a pre-game meal. Pre-game is not the most important time to focus on protein, so don’t over-do it with many protein shakes and bars, save those for after the game.

What are good pre-game choices for protein? Choose an appropriate amount of chicken breast, ground turkey, peanut butter, fish such as tuna, an energy bar, or dairy products like cheese and yogurt based on personal tolerance, etc.

Vitamins and Minerals-

Other nutrients are important for your overall health and body’s function during the game. Vitamins and minerals are needed in small amounts for all systems of your body to work properly. You don’t need expensive fancy supplements to be healthy, choose a balanced diet and you’ll be fine.

What foods are high in vitamins and minerals? Choose foods with high nutritional value. Choose vegetables. fruits, grains, lean meats, fish, dairy products, beans, nuts, and seeds. Include an appropriate variety of these foods in all shapes and colors- remember to “eat the rainbow” for a balance of all the important nutrients you’ll need.


Don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated before, during, and after football. Water is best! See my post on Should Football Players Drink Gatorade? for advice on sports drinks.

Here are a Few Additional Tips When Planning Your Pre-Game Meal:

  • Finish your pre-game meal a few hours before kick off so you aren’t full before game time. See below for best meal-timing tips.
  • It’s all about planning ahead- bring your lunch and dinner to school so you’ll be prepared and won’t have to rely on nearby fast food or school vending machines for game day meals. 
  • Try new things, and find a plan that works best for you before football game day. Football season isn’t the best time to try a new diet.
  • You can easily get all the appropriate nutrients by eating a well-planned and balanced meal. Don’t stress about eating perfectly, just do your best. Most people get plenty of carbohydrates and protein daily without following a nutrition plan. 

Best Examples For an Appropriate Football Pre-Game Meal: 

  • The classic- pasta with sauce plus some lean chicken or ground turkey.
  • Pancakes and fruit.
  • Green smoothie and toast. 
  • Oatmeal, toast, and juice. 
  • Peanut butter sandwich and a banana.
  • Whole wheat cereal, milk, and banana slices.
  • Baked sweet potato with shredded bbq chicken.

How Much Should You Eat Before a Football Game? 

You need to eat a good-sized meal to fuel you before your game, but not too much. The goal is to have an empty stomach by kickoff. No one likes to exert themselves on a full stomach, and you need to be in your best shape by game time.

If you eat too much ahead of time, you will have too much weight of food in your stomach without any of the benefits of that food.

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.

When in doubt- eat early and supplement with a snack before game time.

When Should You Eat Before a Football Game?

Personal preference is important when considering timing of meals and snacks before your football game.

There’s also some variation with best timing depending on what you are eating. Anything liquid will be digested very quickly, while more protein and fat will take longer to digest.

The recommended window for a pre-game meal is 1-4 hours before the game. Eat an appropriately sized meal that is full of carbohydrates and easy on the fiber, fat, protein, and sugar.

Try eating 4 hours before and then if you get too hungry before game time, eat a decent snack 30 minutes before kick off. Then next time you might try eating 3 hours before and see how that goes. Experiment for what is best for your body and your performance.

What Should You Drink Before a Football Game? 

Water is hands-down the best choice for hydration before a football game. If your pre-game meal was 3-4 hours before the game, you might choose to have a sports drink right before the game to give you some carbohydrates.

Expensive energy and sports drinks typically provide too much sugar, save the sports drinks for half time when you need to refuel.

Check out my post on sports drinks to see if Gatorade is appropriate to drink during football.

Check out my meal plans for a specific nutrition plan for football season and my Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football ebook for more information on what, how much, and when to eat to appropriately fuel you for football.


  • Before a high school football game avoid foods that will cause any stomach discomfort as well as foods that will negatively impact your performance. 
  • Fuel up on carbohydrates and fluid with a moderate amount of protein. And remember to limit fat, sugar, and fiber in your pre-game meal.
  • Eat foods with high nutritional value.
  • Eat a pre-game meal 1-4 hours before kickoff and eat a pre-game snack if you need it. Eat enough to keep you comfortably full for a few hours so that by game time you will not be playing on a full stomach. 
  • Hydrate with water before a football game. Sports drinks are occasionally appropriate to re-fuel during the game. 
  • The best thing to do is experiment with your pre-game nutrition plan before practice until you find out what works best for your body. Then when game day comes you will have the perfect game plan to fuel your peak performance. 
  • If you’ve enjoyed these tips and are looking for more nutrition information, check out my Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football ebook. All you need to know for football nutrition in one place including a 28-day meal plan!

Eat. Fight. 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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