The Worst Foods to Eat Before Basketball

Basketball season– It’s game day and you need to fuel yourself with the best pre-game meal to provide you with major performance benefits. Wondering what it looks like?

It looks heavy on carbohydrates and fluid, with some protein and fat. The foods you shouldn’t eat before a basketball game are fatty foods, desserts, caffeine, soda, gassy foods, artificial sweeteners, and anything else that may upset your stomach.

Keep reading below for a list of foods to avoid before a basketball game, as well as recommendations for the best pre-game meals. Start small and make simple improvements to your nutrition plan and you will notice major performance benefits.

Are you looking for a little extra help with your nutrition plan this basketball season? I’ll help you run faster, jump higher, recover quicker, and increase your intensity, power, and strength. My new ebook will help you make the changes you need to rise above the competition and perform at your top abilities for the best season of basketball you’ve ever had.

Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

Prioritizing nutrition can improve performance. This eBook will help you learn what to eat, when, and how much. You’ll learn essential tips plus how to get to your ideal basketball season weight.

Worst Foods to Eat Before Basketball

You’ve heard you should be eating pasta and other fueling foods before a basketball game, but what should you NOT eat before you play?

You’ve been working your hardest all week and eating right, and you especially need to focus on nutrition on game day. You need to be at the top of your game. Nutrition is as big of a deal as training.

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

Foods to Avoid Before Basketball: 

There are certain foods you definitely don’t want to eat before playing basketball. 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 the foods that will cause discomfort and an upset stomach, as well as foods that will negatively affect your performance and energy levels. 

Don’t eat these foods the day of a basketball game:

Fatty Foods– including any fried food, french fries, hamburgers, fried chicken, greasy pizza, bacon. Fat doesn’t help as much with supplying the energy you need right before basketball, and it takes longer to move through your digestive tract which causes an upset stomach with possible bloating, pain, and diarrhea.

Caffeine– soda, tea, and coffee will not be your friends before a basketball 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). For more info, see my post: Sugar-Free Teens? The Problem With Artificial Sweeteners for Teens

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

Desserts– especially pastries, doughnuts, cakes, 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. Some people can handle a lot more than others. You don’t want to have heartburn and an upset stomach during a game. If you don’t usually eat spicy foods, be careful with any mexican foods, asian foods, and salsas that are too hot for you. Bland, easy-to-digest foods are best.

Energy Drinks– you heard e right. Which energy drink does your team swear by for performance enhancement? While popular among basketball 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 Basketball 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 (based on personal tolerance): 

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 basketball 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. Stay away from hamburgers, pizza, french fries, bacon, etc. before your game. See also: How Much Fat Does a Teen Need Per Day?

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 too 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 basketball game. Shoot for 15-30 grams of protein in your pre-game meal and 15 grams in your snack. After a game is the best time for protein. See also: Is Whey Protein Safe for Teen Athletes?

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. Eat appropriate pre-game meals and snacks. See also: Free Nutrition Meal Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

Dairy Products–  Know your personal limits with dairy. Some people are more sensitive to dairy and develop stomach aches 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. See also: Is it OK for Teens to be Dairy-Free?

What Are the Best Foods to Eat Before a Basketball 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 basketball 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. Remember, prioritizing nutrition can improve performance.

Here’s what you’ll want to eat in your pre-game meal:

Carbohydrates –

Carbohydrates (also known as carbs or 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 full capacity of stored energy when your game starts.

You’ll need to be regularly refilling your body’s carbohydrate 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 basketball game, 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 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. for your pre-game meal. Limit intake of processed carbohydrates such as white bread, sugary cereal, and dessert. (You may need to choose white over wheat breads and grains right before a game because whole wheat options have more fiber and may cause bloating for some individuals).

You’ll want at least 60 grams or more carbohydrates as part of your pre-game meal and about 30+ grams as part of your snack, depending on exercise duration and intensity.


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. Before playing is not the most important time to focus on protein, so don’t over-do it with protein shakes and bars, save your protein 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, etc. based on personal tolerance.

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 set.

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 basketball. Water is best! 

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

  • Finish your pre-game meal a few hours before tip off so you aren’t playing on a full stomach. See below for best meal-timing tips.
  • It’s all about planning ahead– bring your lunch, snacks, 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 game day. Basketball 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. These numbers are just estimates, individual tolerance in what you eat is extremely important.

Best Basketball Pre-Game Meals: 

Here’s some examples of foods that fit the categories of fueling you the right way before your big game:

  • The classic- pasta with sauce plus some lean chicken or ground turkey and maybe breadsticks
  • Pancakes, nut butter, and fruit
  • Peanut butter sandwich and a banana
  • PB&J
  • Green smoothie and bagels
  • Oatmeal, toast, and juice
  • Whole wheat cereal, milk, and berries
  • Baked sweet potato with shredded bbq chicken
  • Rice cakes with nut butter and fruit

How Much Should You Eat Before a Basketball Game? 

You need to eat a good-sized meal to fuel you before your game, but not too much. The goal is to have a mostly empty stomach by tip off. 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 before the game, you will have too much weight of food in your stomach without any of the benefits of that food’s nutrients and fuel. Digestion takes time.

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 Basketball Game?

Personal preference is important when considering timing of meals and snacks before your basketball 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. When it’s time, eat an appropriately sized meal that is full of carbohydrates and easy on the fiber, fat, protein, and sugar.

Try eating 3 hours before and then if you get too hungry before game time, add a snack 30 minutes before tip off. Then next time you might try eating 2 hours before and see how that goes, etc. Experiment what is best for your body and your performance.

What Should You Drink Before a Basketball Game? 

Water is hands-down the best choice for hydration before a basketball 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, so 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 basketball.


  • Before a high school basketball 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 tip off 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 basketball 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. 

Related Questions

What do NBA Players Eat Before a Game? Keep in mind, NBA players should eat a lot differently than teen basketball players. Some popular pre-game meals in the NBA are rumored to be PB&J sandwiches and pasta. LeBron James reports eating anything from salads to chicken and pasta. NBA players tend to have specific rituals they stick to because they know what works for them individually. You can’t really compare yourself to a pro who trains all day and has access to personal trainers, chefs, and dietitians. However, if you want the help of a dietitian in your training, check out my basketball nutrition game plan.

What is the Best Thing to Eat Before Playing Sports? You need to fuel yourself with carbohydrates before you play sports and also make sure you are well hydrated. PB&J sandwiches, pasta, starchy vegetables, bagels, and cereal make great go-to pre-game meals. What are some of your favorites?

What Should You Eat During a Basketball Game? You only need to eat during a basketball game if you’re playing vigorously for more than 1 hour or if you’re hungry. You’ll want to fuel up on a sports drink (not a sugar-free flavor), fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, or anything else with carbohydrates that your stomach can tolerate during exercise.

How Can I Get Energy For a Basketball Game? Carbohydrates are the fuel that provide your muscles with energy for a basketball game. Eating carbohydrates throughout the day and right before a basketball game is crucial. Choose your favorite carbohydrate foods and you’ll be all set! Choose grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, legumes, or dairy products and you’re ready to hit the court.

What Should Basketball Athletes Eat for Breakfast? Typical American breakfasts are full of too much sugar such as waffles, muffins, donuts, breakfast cereals, pastries, etc. etc. etc. Too much sugar for breakfast can cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash later in the day and lead to low energy and unhealthy cravings. Instead fuel up on healthy carbohydrates and protein such as oatmeal, fruit and veggie smoothies, Greek yogurt and granola, eggs and avocado toast, etc.

See Also

And don’t miss my new eBook for teen basketball players– helping you run faster, jump higher, recover quicker, and increase your intensity, power, and strength. This book will help you make the changes you need to rise above the competition and perform at your top abilities. For the best season of basketball you’ve ever had! Get it here: Nutrition Game Plan for Teenage Basketball Players

Written by Katherine Harmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

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.

Recent Posts