Collection: Nutrition tips for game day

With field sports starting again, it's a timely reminder to think about how to make the most of your game day with good nutrition choices.  Whether it's for you or your family and no matter if it's netball, rugby, hockey, soccer or any other sports - the same principles apply.  Good, healthy choices can make a real difference to sustaining energy and enjoying your match day.

Performance dietician Conrad Goodhew provides his top tips:

Why is pre-game nutrition important?

It's important to understand what and when you need to eat in order to optimise pre-match nutrition. Getting your nutrition right leading up to games will result in better energy levels throughout the game, improve how you feel on the field and can improve both physical and cognitive performance.

Carbohydrates are trumps

Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred fuel source for high-intensity exercise and are key to optimising performance during games. High carb intake on game day will help maximise glycogen stores in your muscles and liver. This will give you the fuel you need to help maintain energy levels until the final whistle blows.

In your everyday diet it’s best to stick to mainly wholegrain sources of carbs, as they are higher in fibre and micronutrients. However, when it comes to game day we need to be mindful that fibre slows digestion and has the potential to cause GI distress when coupled with nerves and exercise stress.

Protein and fat on game day?

Fat, though energy dense, is slow to digest. If consumed too close to play, fat will sit in the stomach and make you feel heavy, lethargic and nauseous when you are on the pitch. Energy from fat is not available as quickly as energy from carbohydrates. In fact, consuming high-fat foods can slow the energy release from entire meals. Therefore, fat intake should be kept to a minimum on game day to maximise energy availability.

Even though protein is important in your daily diet for muscle building and recovery when it comes to pre-match nutrition protein isn’t a priority. Pre-game our primary focus is performance – so we want to optimise carbohydrate intake. High protein intake before a game can cause GI upset so intake should be adapted based on what you can handle. But remember, protein after your game is vital for good recovery.


Making sure you eat enough carbs in the 2-4hr window prior to warming up for play to provide you with sustained energy throughout the whole game. Aim for somewhere between 200-400g of carbs in this window.

What you eat, and when, will depend on the time of day your game will be played. Examples have been given below:

Afternoon game

Breakfast (7:00 - 8:00am)


If you wake up early you will have time to get in an early breakfast, this is important if you struggle to eat pre-game.

Pre-Game Meal (10:00 - 12:00)


Use this window of time to load carbohydrates before the game. Start eating early enough that you will have digested the food before your match starts and it will be available for energy.


 Evening game timing

Breakfast (7:00-10:00)


Aim to get good carbohydrates and some protein in at this meal.

Lunch (11:30 - 12:30pm)


May want to include a light lunch/snack here or something more substantial if you struggle to eat pre-game.

Pre-Game Meal (3:00pm - 5:00pm)


Use this window of time to load carbohydrates before the game. Start eating early enough that you will have digested the food before the match starts and it will be available for energy.


Importance of self-assessment 

Everyone is different, and it is important to find the pre-game nutrition strategy that works best for you. Reflect and adapt to ensure optimisation.  The timings given above are a guide only. If you struggle to eat at pre-game, then start to load your carbohydrates in meals earlier in the day and make sure that you are getting a good breakfast.

If you feel like you perform better when you sleep in on game day then focus on nailing your nutrition at lunch and in the pre-game meal. 

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Conrad Goodhew is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian (NZRD) specialising in performance nutrition, and is our guest sports nutrition contributor.  Conrad is available for individual consultations, in person or via web-based consultations. Find out more here.

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