Pre-Game Carbohydrate Intake



Good nutrition is the cornerstone of good health—bottom line—and is thus dually important for athletes, whose performance depends largely on the most optimized physiological functioning.

There is a general refrain of “carbs, carbs, carbs” when it comes to proper dieting before high- intensity and prolonged exercise (which basketball definitely entails), because these are the most important source of energy for the body in this case. That we know, but between simple and complex carbohydrates, which do you choose for your optimized pre-game diet?

Let’s start with the difference between the two: simple carbs (also known as simple sugars) include fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (or table sugar, a combo of fructose and glucose), and lactose (milk sugar), among several others. The best natural source of simple carbs is fruit.

Complex carbs, on the other hand, consist of sugar molecules strung together in longer and more complex chains; these take longer to be metabolized by the body and thus provide energy at a slower rate than simple sugars. Whole grains, vegetables (especially peas) and beans are all rich in complex carbs—sorry, ladies and gents, it doesn’t just come down to cramming in pasta and beer.

Starch and fibre are also important complex carbs, and while you probably know fibre is not going to count towards your energy sources because it can’t be digested or absorbed, starch should be one of the focuses of your pre-game diet because your body breaks it down and stores it in your muscles and liver as glycogen.

These are the primary carbohydrate stores your body’s going to use to support about two consistent hours of exercise before you hit the proverbial “wall”. So how do you get this good starch? It’s found in whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas. You can replenish these stores if you’re feeling yourself weaken during the game or practice, otherwise you’ll revert to using your protein and fat stores.

Everyone agrees that in order to replenish your muscular carb stores in the short term, simple sugars (preferably from fruits or fruit drinks) are the best. In the long-term, however, an overly high simple carb intake can damage the pancreas because it has to overcompensate with spurts of insulin—this is most often the case when you get heavy into the refined sugars.

While some sports nutritionists will lay down the law and definitively say that complex carbs are the best choice for a solid pre-game meal, it makes sense to stagger your carb intake and make sure your meal consists of both complex and simple carbs, as well as some natural proteins. Although energy drinks are a convenient source of fuel and hydration combined during a game, watch out for what you’re putting into your body; refined sugars will do more harm than good in the long run.

If you’re an athlete who is really serious about performance and is willing to take every measure possible in order to enhance your strength (yes, I’m still talking about basketball here) without getting squeamish, here’s the ideal foods you should be eating about 2-3 hours before a game:

Oatmeal, millet, or buckwheat with honey and raisins, topped with some nuts or seeds for protein (and to stabilize the blood sugar). Holistic nutritionists won’t recommend to eat animal proteins so close to high-intensity exercise because they will take more of your body’s energy to digest. Brown rice, cooked millet or buckwheat, and quinoa (an absolute superfood) allow for optimally physiological digestion. Adding honey is a great way to top up your blood-glucose stores without the drastic insulin jump.

I know that may not sound like a meal of champions, but it will work wonders for your body. Now, if you really don’t roll with the oats, some whole grain or brown rice pasta with tomato sauce, or scrambled eggs on whole grain toast would be a great alternative. Grilled fish and veggies could be paired with the carbs too.

A sports drink 5-10 minutes before the start of the game will give the initial energy boost you need, which should be replenished throughout. The most important thing to note is what type of activity you are fuelling up for: do your research, and you will be able to craft yourself the choicest meals!


Jalene at 23 Aug 2011

I was seiruosly at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

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