Post provided by Joe Abunassar from IMPACT Basketball, an online training and coaching resource. Learn more about IMPACT at the bottom of this post.

As parents of young athletes, we are often challenged with the responsibility of preparing meals before a game that will ensure they will have great energy for a game or practice. We are also busy people without the luxury of always being able to plan, and kids today are so busy running from school to sports and other commitments, time is not always on our side. 

To make things simple for parents, we have curated a list of 5 recipes and advice on how to feed your young athlete before a game or practice session to make sure they have great energy. At IMPACT Basketball, we work very hard to educate both our players and their parents on the importance of great nutrition and how it affects the body. 

Here are some things to know about pre-workout nutrition, and here are five great recipes that are great before a game.

Pre-Workout Nutrition Basics

Whether hitting the weights or gearing up for a soccer game, nutrition that best benefits exertion follows a few rules.


Carbohydrates are the Body’s Main Source of Energy

The main portion of the pre-game meal should be quality carbohydrates that will provide energy for the working muscles and keep the mind sharp and alert. 

Some ideas here would be pasta, rice, and other quality grains that can be found in many meals. Vegetables are also important sources of carbs and vitamins and should also be included. 

Players without adequate carbs in the system prior to performance will tend to be sluggish and not sharp mentally. The body will turn to carbs to drive the muscles, and when they are not found, energy levels drop and muscle tissues begin to be destroyed. 


  • Small to moderate servings of pasta or rice
  • Moderate servings of fruit
  • Small to moderate serving of protein

Avoid High-Fat & Fried Foods

The nutritional value of fried high-fat foods is very poor for an athlete trying to perform at his or her best. 

High-fat sauces like Alfredo or cheese sauce should be avoided for pre-game meals. Fats are digested more slowly than carbohydrates, so the energy that fat provides will not be available for use during the game. These high-fat foods can also throw the body off balance so the carbohydrate energy is not able to be utilized. 


  • Cheese & cream (including sauces, pizza, etc.)
  • Large portions of nuts
  • Anything deep-friend

Include a Lean Source of Protein

Combining the protein with high-quality carbohydrates will result in great energy. 

The ratio of carbs to protein is very important. This ideal ratio allows the body to access the glycogen in the muscles that is created by eating quality carbohydrates. When this ratio is off, for example if the pre-game meal is primarily protein without adequate carbs, or too high in fat, the passages to the glycogen in the muscles is actually limited. 

Think of eating right prior to a big game as maximizing the body’s ability to use the stored carbs for energy. In addition, proper ratios will allow the body to access fat storage in the case that the carbohydrate energy is depleted in a longer game or practice. 


  • Chicken breasts or boneless/skinless thighs
  • Lean cuts of beef or pork
  • Vegetable proteins, including moderate portions of beans or chickpeas

Stay Hydrated

Water being poured into a glass

Being even a little dehydrated will have a negative effect on performance. 

When the body is dehydrated, energy levels drop and brain function decreases. It is estimated that a dehydrated athlete with 2.5% loss of body weight in the form of water can experience up to a 45% loss in the ability to perform high intensity exercises. 

When an athlete enters into a game or tough practice with low hydration levels, it will be impossible to make up for that deficit, no matter how much fluid is taken in during. 

Pay Attention to Electrolytes

Players who sweat a lot should make sure to include adequate sodium, magnesium, and potassium in their meals. 

Even if the body is hydrated properly, when electrolytes drop, energy also drops. This is also why sports drinks with carbohydrates and electrolytes are useful before and during games to keep the body sharp. Electrolytes help to regulate body fluids and aid muscle and nerve function. Low levels of electrolytes will cause cramping and severe fatigue. 


  • Consider a sports drinks shortly before and during the game/workout session
  • Consider dietary supplements that boost magnesium and potassium

Avoid Mono-Macro-Meals

Chicken and rice burrito

Avoid meals that are singularly focused on a single macronutrient, such as a hunk of chicken on its own. 

Things like burritos with chicken or fish, pasta dished with red sauce, or stir-fries with plenty of rice and veggies are great choices for pre-game energy because they offer a varied nutritional profile. 

Keep in mind that foods that are high in sugars are not recommended for pre-game meals. While sugar is a carbohydrate, its “value” is very low as the body burns the energy quickly. When “quality carbohydrates” are mentioned, the value is based on how long it takes for the body to process the energy stored. The longer it takes, the more energy that food will provide. This is where the brown rice, pasta, and other quality grains have their value. 

Get Your Timing Right

The timing of the meal should ideally be about 2 – 3 hours before the event. 

Quality carbohydrates will stay in the system for that amount of time and provide great energy. Avoid eating too close to practice or a game. If time is tight, I recommend eating a nutrition bar or pre-game shake to avoid an upset stomach. Many of the bars and shakes provide ample calories and carbohydrates to fuel the players. They are engineered to provide the proper ratios of carbs, proteins, and fats to provide the body with lasting and quality energy. No matter how good the shakes or bars are, “real food” is always recommended if time and circumstances permit. 

Five Great Pre-Game Recipes

Singapore Noodles With Salmon

Singapore noodles with salmon

This high-impact nutritional whallop takes 30 minutes to whip together and is made with lean salmon filets. Not only is a portion roughly 15 grams of protein, but most of its carbs come from rice noodles, bean sprouts, and vegetables. Yum!

Make it: Quick Singapore Noodles With Salmon recipe

Asparagus-Stuffed Chicken Breasts With Spaghetti

Asparagus-stuffed chicken breast

A small serving of spaghetti noodles paired with asparagus-stuffed chicken breasts is a healthy and tasty meal for any occasion – especially a few hours before a game! Just be sure to avoid the usual spaghetti sides, including garlic bread.

Make it: Chicken Stuffed With Asparagus recipe

Make-Ahead Chicken & Bean Burrito

Make ahead chicken and bean burrito

A burrito may not seem like ideal pre-game nutrition, but keep in mind that you can control portion sizes and ingredients. Burritos can be a great way to pack a lot of nutritional value into a convenient and tasty handheld package. 

For a vegetarian option, skip the chicken and reduce the portion size a bit; beans are a great protein on their own!

Make it: Make-Ahead Chicken & Bean Burrito recipe

Slow Cooker Asian Broccoli Beef


Thinly sliced beef and vegetables always make for a great combination, but you can really level things up simply by adding a slow cooker and a sesame-garlic sauce to the equation. If you want to add some carbs, a healthy bed of rice noodles or rice is always a good choice. 

For a larger nutritional punch, consider adding baby corn and red/green peppers to the mix.

Make it: Slow Cooker Asian Broccoli Beef recipe

Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade granola bars

Because who isn’t on the move these days? Homemade granola bars are a great way to pack in your preferred power – nuts, craisins, and peanut butter are all great choices! This recipe uses 3/4 cup of brown sugar, but you could dial that back to a half-cup (or even a third of a cup) without dialing back the flavor too much.

Make it: Homemade granola bars recipe

Visit Us at Impact Basketball for More Tips & Advice for Sports Families

About the Author, Joe Abunassar. 

For 25 years, Joe Abunassar and Impact have enabled players and coaches at every level to reach their potential. We pride ourselves on building skills, bodies, confidence, and knowledge in every player or coach we touch.

See more at the IMPACT Basketball blog.


It is important that you verify the information you read, especially when it comes to your health. In addition to our years of experience as athletes and coaches, we source our information from reputable sources such as: