The Pre-Game Meal Formula

Basketball games have started and it’s time to show off the hard work you put in this off-season. Topping off your power stores with a Pre-Game Meal will ensure you have energy to compete late into the fourth quarter. While there’s not a magic meal that works for everyone, I’m going to provide a Pre-Game Meal Formula to help you jump higher, cut quicker and finish stronger when it really counts.


It’s important to note that what you eat throughout the week plays a bigger role in how you perform in games than a Pre-Game Meal. You can’t make up for a chronic poor diet by eating one good meal before tip-off. It takes weeks of consistent training and quality basketball nutrition to BUILD Muscle, BURN Fat and PERFORM Better.

With that being said, the Pre-Game Meal is your last opportunity to top off fuel levels before you go to battle. The food you eat should make you feel energetic, maintain blood sugar levels and shouldn’t cause any stomach distress.

While the Pre-Game meal won’t make your performance, it could definitely break it. Here are a few guidelines to keep you from feeling grounded:

1. Never try a new food before a game. Your Pre-Game Meal should only contain foods that you’ve eaten before and like.
2. Listen to your body. What works for one player might not work for you. Pay attention to how you feel after eating and stick to foods that give you energy.
3. Stay hydrated. Water regulates body temperature and helps lubricate joints. Dehydration can lead to decreased reaction times and injury.


Michael Jordan ate a 23 ounce steak and baked potato before stepping on the court to win six championships. Lebron James preferred salmon and grilled pineapple to fuel his 4 MVP performances. The NBA’s all-time leader is steals and assists, John Stockton, said that he felt great when he ate eggs on toast.

While each of these meals are very different, the common thread is a quality carbohydrate and protein selection, with some dietary fat.

Proteins like steak, salmon and eggs support muscle growth and repair. Carbohydrates like potatoes, pineapple and toast replenish muscle glycogen, which allows you to repeatedly sprint, shuffle and jump. The healthy fats in the salmon, steak and egg yolks slow down the release and absorption of carbohydrates, which will give you energy in the second half.

As you can see, the category of food is more important than the actual food type. Instead of focusing on eating specific foods, start thinking of your Pre-Game Meal in terms of categories. This will give you the freedom to eat a variety of foods that fit your preferences and environment.

Here are the four categories I use with my players and a short list of foods to get you started:

Banana Quality Bread Eggs Avocado
Berries Potato Chicken Olive oil
Broccoli Quality Pasta Turkey Cashews
Lettuce Quinoa Fish Peanut Butter
Peppers Sweet Potato Beef Almonds
Spinach Rice Beans Butter
What category you choose from depends on when you eat. The further away from game time, the more food you can eat and the more dietary fat can be included in your meal. The closer to tip off, the less food and fat you should eat.

This is the optimal time to start your Pre-Game Meal. By eating four hours before tip-off, you’re able to top off energy reserves and allow your body to digest the majority of food you eat.

Your digestive system shuts down while you’re playing, so you’ll want to eat far enough in advance to let your body break down the food and shuttle energy to the parts of the body that are going to use it.

It’s impossible to give an exact ratio or prescribe a calorie amount for players to eat. Since everyone is unique, a big meal for one athlete might leave another player hungry.

The only recommendations I give to players is to pick one food from each of the four categories. Feel free to add your favorite food if it’s not on the list. Here’s the Pre-Game Meal Formula when eating four hours before tip-off:

4-Hour Pre-Game Meal = Carb1 + Carb2 + Protein + Fat + H2O

Sample 4-Hour Meal:
Garden Salad (Carb1)
Sweet potatoes (Carb2)
Chicken breasts (Protein)
Avocado (Fat)

It’s common for school to end around 3pm and for games to start around 5pm. On these days, it works well to eat your Pre-Game Meal two hours before tip-off.

Morning games also work well for a 2-Hour Pre-Game Meal. It wouldn’t make sense to wake up at 4am to eat for an 8am tournament game. Get the extra rest and eat 2 hours before tip-off.

The closer you get to game time, the less fat you want to eat. Fat is a slow-burning fuel and you don’t want to have a full stomach while you’re playing. Instead of purposefully adding fat into this meal, focus on eating a fruit/vegetable selection, carb dense food and protein. Here’s the Pre-Game Meal Formula when eating two hours before game time:

2-Hour Pre-Game Meal = Carb1 + Carb2 + Protein + H2O

Sample 2-Hour Meal:
Turkey sandwich (Carb2 & Protein)
Banana (Carb1)

When playing tournaments, it’s possible to only have an hour between games. In this scenario, your Pre-Game Meal is even more important because it also acts as your post-game recovery meal.

Most players have a difficult time eating this close to tip-off, so consume a smaller amount that won’t upset your stomach. This meal should be a carbohydrate selection with a small amount of protein.

Try drinking a Power Smoothie so your body can digest the nutrients faster. It doesn’t matter how healthy a certain food is, if it upsets your stomach, it shouldn’t be included in your Pre-Game Meal. Here’s the Pre-Game Meal Formula for eating within an hour of tip-off:

1-Hour Pre-Game Meal = Liquid Carb1 + Protein + H2O

Sample 1-Hour Meal:
2 cups of water
1 cup of frozen mixed berries (Carb1)
1 cup of frozen spinach (Carb1)
1 scoop of vanilla protein powder (Protein)
Blend and enjoy!

What’s your favorite Pre-Game Meal?