Nutritious Pre-Game Meals

Posted: 10/7/2009

Posted Oct 7, 2009

The pregame choice of meat and three vegetables can help a football team gain those "3 yards and a cloud of dust" needed later that night. That's according to Tess Canlas, clinical nutrition manager for Memorial Health Care System.

Canlas was asked to assess a sampling of the pregame meals typically served by more than a dozen area high school football programs. Most of those teams serve chicken, hamburger steak or some form of pasta, as well as either mashed or baked potatoes, green beans, rolls and a cookie.

"I would say those are overall good choices," Canlas said after studying the menus. "I see lots of hamburger. They should make sure that the hamburger meat is 90 percent lean meat. That's a good source of protein.

"Bananas would be a good choice for fruit, and adequate hydration is very important."

Because most high school football programs can't afford to feed 40-80 players each week for a 10-game regular season, booster clubs or local restaurants are counted on for donations. Sometimes the shoestring budgets leave coaches with tough decisions for choosing inexpensive meals that meet their players' nutritional needs and ensure they perform at maximum ability.

"We started having a pregame meal with chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, a cookie and tea last year," Ringgold coach Robert Akins said. "Before that, we got fast food from places that gave us stuff. But that really wasn't what we needed, because we tended to wear out during games. We wanted to start something that would give them better nutrition and help them maintain energy during the games."

Some area programs, including Polk County, do not provide pregame meals. In weeks when the Wildcats play at home, coach Derrick Davis allows his players to go home during the hours between school dismissal and the designated time to be back at the fieldhouse. When the team has an away game, a local restaurant will provide the pregame meal, which can be something as simple as sandwiches and fruit.

While high school coaches have input on what their players eat the day of a game, they can't monitor what those teenagers eat the rest of the week. But the days before the game are just as important, according to both Canlas and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head athletic trainer Todd Bullard.

"The pregame meal is highly important, but it starts the week of and not the day before the game," said Bullard, who also stressed the importance of hydration in the days leading up to the game. "I mean, Tuesday you'd like for them to be eating somewhat balanced proportions: carbs, proteins and fats. You always hear about the typical carbo-load -- you just don't want them to run out of gas toward the end -- but you're not going to be able to do that right before the game.

"The right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the days leading up to the game will make sure that they've got enough gas in the tank. You don't want them so full that they can't move, but you figure you typically eat a pregame meal four hours before the game, so that food has got plenty of time to digest."

Date: Oct 2, 2009

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Copyright © 2009, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.

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