Food that fuels: what athletes eat before a game

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By Kyle Kennedy, Staff Reporter
Game day. Game face. Game food?
Many different factors can affect an athlete’s performance before a game. Athletes generally agree they need plenty of practice, hydration and sleep, but they differ about what food should be eaten before a big competition.
“Optimally, the best fueled athlete is the one who has eaten small meals and snacks every few hours up to 1.5 to two hours before a competition,” Sports Nutrition teacher Dr. Mary Kaye Rhude-Faust said.
Football player senior Tommy Luce has his own approach to selectively snacking before the game. 
“I usually just eat a protein bar and drink some Gatorade. The Gatorade and protein bars give me good energy for the game,” Luce said.
Gatorade is one of the most common sports drinks on the market today. Most sports drinks are carbohydrate and electrolyte heavy and help to replenish nutrients lost in sweat.
“If the duration of the activity for an individual athlete is fairly continuous for one hour or longer, a sports drink is the better replacement fluid,” Rhude-Faust said.
Protein bars are another popular food for athletes, and are often used as a carbohydrate-heavy pregame snack.
“The pre-competition snack should be about 250-350 calories, mostly carbohydrates, a little protein and very little fat. A protein bar, a bagel and jam or cereal and skim milk are each good choices,” Rhude-Faust said.
Fruits are also popular choices among athletes. Fruits are rich in carbohydrates and natural sugars, and help to supply energy before a competition. Freshman tennis player Minju Kim opts for fruitier fuel before a match. 
“I eat clementines, bananas or apples before a game,” Kim said.
Pasta is another source of carbohydrates favored by many athletes. For several ‘Stoga sports teams, including the soccer and swim teams, pasta has become part of their pre-game routines.
“The night before a game, [the team] usually eats a pasta dinner,” senior soccer player Matthew Marcelli said.
According to Rhude-Faust, another good energy source are whole-grain carbohydrates.
“Whole-grain carbohydrates–such as brown rice, whole-grain bread and quinoa–are a key piece of pre-game meals because they’re stored as energy that’s used during the game,” Rhude-Faust said.
Although many athletes have different pre-game food rituals, the effects may be mostly psychological.
 “Some athletes have ‘lucky’ foods. These are foods that the athlete believes bring him or her luck before an athletic event. However, it’s probably just that the foods carry with them a lot of psychological rather than nutritional power,” Rhude-Faust said.
Regardless of the nutritional value, the psychological power of food alone can help athletes.
“On the day of the game I don’t change much about what I eat. You don’t want to throw your body off before the game,” Marcelli said.
Kyle Kennedy can be reached at [email protected].