Sep 1, 2017
Gameday Fueling
Jonathan Tanguay

At Texas A&M University, our football players are expected to maintain a healthy diet. When it comes to fueling for gametime, we give them a very specific plan, which begins a full day before the contest begins.

The night before: Most of our games take place on Saturdays, so on Friday evenings I like to ramp up the fueling process with a dinner that’s particularly interesting and appropriate to the occasion. For example, we plan a BBQ-themed meal when we stay in Memphis to play the University of Mississippi, or we add some Cajun flair to the menu when at Louisiana State University. For home games we follow the same theme–we even roasted a whole pig the night before the Arkansas game–and also offer enticing entrees such as carved steamship round, ham and turkey, baked salmon, and shrimp and grits. This is done to increase menu variety, which can become stale and stagnant if it remains unchanged for too long.

The focus of this menu is getting the players as well fueled as possible. We include multiple carbohydrate and lean protein options and plenty of vegetables to ensure the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are being consumed. I typically choose menu items that we have had success with in the past as well as those that are specialties of local chefs.

Pregame: Our pregame fueling strategy starts the morning of the game and runs until the opening whistle. Nerves can affect how an athlete eats before a game, so I try to keep these meals simple and familiar. Depending on game time, our pregame meal lineup will include anything from breakfast to breakfast, lunch, and a snack.

These meals are a combination of our different menu items, and may include fruit, eggs, chicken, beef, rice, potatoes, pasta, pancakes, waffles, and/or French toast. I sometimes have to eliminate certain mainstays. For example, while breakfast omelets are always a hit with the players, if the line to the omelet bar gets backed up during the only full pregame meal of the day, some may go hungry. So instead of omelets, we’ll sometimes do scrambled eggs with diced ham and turkey and cheddar cheese to provide the same nutritional content in a shorter time.

Another key component of pregame nutrition is hydration. We need to provide players with ample opportunities to hydrate, so we make sports drinks and water available to them wherever they go. For example, we place them throughout the hotel at away games, including in meeting rooms and meal rooms.

On game day, we travel to away stadiums with a pre-stocked nutrition cart that fits on the team bus. As soon as we arrive, the cart is unloaded and brought into the locker room so I can set up the onsite nutrition selections. For home games, I simply arrive at the stadium ahead of the team.

We rely heavily on sports drinks and make electrolyte supplements available to those who need them. The snacks we provide are typically low-fiber, easily digestible bars and chews. All these items provide quick sources of energy that are readily absorbed.

Each player has his own approach to pregame nutrition. While I base the offerings on scientific research and the nutritional needs of each individual, oftentimes an athlete’s tradition or superstition takes precedence. I try to support and encourage any pregame routines as long as they’re not putting the athlete at risk for depleted energy stores or compromising their ability to perform on the field.

In-game: We offer a variety of halftime nutrition options for our players. These include simple carbohydrates that are easy on the stomach and quickly absorbed as well as more complex carbohydrate and protein options such as energy bars. We also include an assortment of fresh fruit and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As fall advances and game-time temperatures drop, chicken broth becomes a team favorite.

I head to the locker room a few minutes before the end of the first half and make sure the sports drinks, water, electrolyte replacers, and other halftime supplies are ready for the players. When the team comes in, we hit them with their hydration products first. I work with the athletic training students and other support staff to make sure that each player is refueled, rehydrated, and ready for the second half.

Post-game: We organize a post-game meal and schedule it to be delivered around the start of the fourth quarter so that it is ready as soon as the team gets off the field. While on the road, options are sometimes limited but we always make sure a balance of protein and carbohydrate is included, as well as some type of fruit. We also provide the players with a sports drink and water to kick-start the rehydration process.

We ensure the team is fed again on the flight home after road games. We organize this meal so that it includes a hot sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, fresh fruit, pretzels or baked chips, a sports drink, and water. In addition, we include some kind of treat on the flight after winning road games.

Jonathan Tanguay, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is Director of Performance Nutrition at Texas A&M University.

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