Eating Before a Morning Baseball or Softball Gam
PBSCCS was recently contacted by a coach of a 13U team who wanted to know what he could do to improve team performance in morning games. He said that his players seemed to be dragging during morning games and wondered if there was something that they could eat for breakfast that would provide more energy and help improve performance on the field. PBSCCS submitted this question to several sports nutritionists and the following was prepared from their responses.
Preparation starts the night before. In sports nutrition, as in every other aspect of sports, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Having a plan for tomorrow’s game and knowing how you are going to attack the day is a good way to prepare for tomorrow’s game. Players need to set out their uniform, pack their bat bag, prepare their water, sports drinks and snacks for the next day and set their clocks so that they have ample time to get up, have a solid breakfast and get to the game on time. Not only will this keep them and their parents from rushing in the in the morning trying to find their belt, hat, glove, map to the game site, etc., it will help parents and coaches rest easier knowing that their sons and players are prepared for the next day. It also helps teach personal responsibility.
What you eat the day before the game is more important than what you eat the day of the game. Research indicates that 1) there are no “super foods” that will instantly improve performance an hour or two before game time, 2) nutritional deficiencies that result in decreased performance don’t happen overnight, and 3) nutritional deficiencies can’t be corrected in one or two meals. Eating an adequate amount of carbohydrate and quality protein every day provides the energy needed to fuel practice, sustain performance, build muscle and recover fully. This happens over time, not on game day.
The diet that supports practice is as important or more important, than what players eat on game day. Players who keep their body properly nourished and well hydrated in the days before the game will have a competitive advantage over those who fixate on what they eat before the game. Likewise, the food and fluids that players consume before, during and after the game will affect how well they perform and how much they recover between games.
The night before the game. What a player eats the evening before competition will determine his nutritional status and affect how he feels when he wakes up the next morning. The goal is for him to go to bed well-fed and properly hydrated so that he can have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling well rested, energized and ready to play. Players should consume healthy, complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, tortillas, pancakes or bread, veggies, 3-4 ounces of lean protein (beef, turkey, fish, chicken), fruits, veggies and plenty of fluids. Make sure that players go to bed well hydrated and drink at least 8 ounces of water as soon as they get up to jump start the hydration process.
Game day morning. Make sure that players eat before they compete. While certain foods are better than others, anything is better than nothing. Players should not start a game with an empty tank. Research shows that eating a meal in the 2-4 hours before competition improves performance, cognitive function, skills and movement patterns. Eating before games results in higher energy levels, slower fatigue, better hydration, as well as faster recovery and reduced risk of fatigue-related injury. Proper eating is a key part of preparation, and is especially important when playing multiple games in one day.
Players should consume carbohydrates and plenty of fluids. Sleeping is fasting. When athletes wake up in the morning, blood sugar level is low and they need to break the fast with a solid breakfast of carbohydrate-rich foods (whole-grain hot or cold cereals, breads, fruit), lean protein, and plenty of fluids. The size of the breakfast is determined by the amount of time between breakfast and the first pitch. Large meals take up more room in the stomach and therefore take longer to digest. Large meals take 3-4 hours to digest, smaller meals require less time. Foods higher in protein and fat also require more time to digest so, the closer the breakfast is to game time, players should consume smaller meals that are high in carbohydrates, lower in protein, very low in fat and fiber and drink plenty of water.
Breakfast options. If breakfast is 3-4 hours before game time, waffles or pancakes with lean ham, fruit and skim milk or water is a good option. Eggs and toast/ biscuits/ English muffins are also good; but limit the fatty bacon or sausage. If there are only 2 hours between breakfast and the game, good options are ½ of a turkey sandwich with fruit and water, yogurt topped with fruit, cereal with milk, granola bar with fruit or nut butter sandwich with jelly and fruit. Don’t neglect hydration. Players should drink 14-20 oz of water within 2-4 hours of competition.
Eating during the game. Most athletes can complete a 1.5-2.0-hour game without food provided ample fluids are consumed to ensure proper hydration. For those who didn’t have an adequate breakfast or exert a lot of energy pitching, catching, running the bases, etc., consuming an easy to digest sports drink and energy bar can help sustain performance and avoid hunger during long games. All players need adequate hydration. Baseball requires fast pace running, quick decision-making, concentration, co-ordination and ball skills. Research shows that dehydration can increase skill errors, reduce concentration and impair speed and co-ordination. Consume about ½ cup of cold fluids every 15 minutes. When playing multiple games in one day, be sure to drink sports drink during the first game.
After the game. The main goals after games are recover, refuel and rehydrate. What players eat immediately after the game can have a significant effect on how well they recover and perform in the next game when playing more than one game per day and in tomorrow’s game. Within 30 minutes after the game, players should start to refuel and rehydrate. For max recovery, players should consume carbohydrate-rich foods or snacks with a small amount of protein and plenty of fluids. Good options for quick recovery include chocolate milk, peanut butter smoothies, cereal and skim milk, Greek yogurt with honey and fruit, nut butter and jelly sandwich, and ½ turkey sandwich with fruit and water.
If time is short, 2 hours or less, between games, good options include sports drink, low-fat, low-fiber energy bars, bananas, Graham crackers, Gels, chews, sports beans, fig bars and plenty of water. If players have 2 hours or more between games, an 8-inch turkey sub with baked chips, fruit juice or sports drink plus an apple is a good choice. Other good options are baked or grilled lean beef, chicken or a turkey sandwich with fruit juice and low-fat or no fat yogurt with pretzels and water.
If there are 3-4 hours or more between games, players can consume a full meal, but should avoid fast foods. Most are high in fat and protein, slow to digest and don’t provide adequate amounts of carbohydrate to replenish energy stores in the liver and muscle. If fast food is the only option, make better choices. Cheese pizza is better than meat lovers and a plain burger with lettuce and tomatoes without the special sauce is better than a belly buster. Select grilled nuggets and grilled chicken breast sandwiches over fried. Pick fruit or apple sauce as a side instead of fries. Avoid fried chicken and chicken wings. Don’t super-size. Supersize means more food, extra calories and more fat that you don’t need. Take your time eating. Don’t scarf the meal down. If you take your time, your stomach will holler “I’m full!” before you overeat.
Also avoid soft drinks, candy, cookies, donuts, etc. Sugar provides empty calories and is not a long-term fuel source. Sugar crashes are a real thing that can occur during games when soft drinks, candies and pastries are consumed before game time. Parents can help by packing healthy foods that need refrigeration in a cooler such as smoothies, chocolate milk, yogurt and pudding or by packing foods that require no refrigeration such as dried and raw fruits, apple sauce cups, bread, bagels, rice cakes, crackers, string cheese, tuna pouches, beef jerky, canned chicken, nuts, nut butter, bottled water, sports drinks and shelf-stable chocolate milk.
For more information, see the following references:
Bonci, L. Sports Nutrition for Coaches, Human Kinetics, 2009.
Coleman, E. and S. N. Steen, Ultimate Sports Nutrition, 2004.
Mangieri, H. R. Fueling Young Athletes, Human Kinetics, 2017.
Troup, Rasa, What are good meals to eat before a tough workout or game? http://baseballstrength.org/what-are-good-meals-to-eat-before-a-tough-workout-or-competition-by-rasa-troup-rd-ld-cssd/
US Olympic Committee, Athletes Plate, http://coachrey.com/volleyball-blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/USOC-Nutrition-Guide.pdf