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Super Bowl 2015: An NFL player’s game-day performance may depend on pre-game meal

A worker hangs a light on an attraction outside the University of Phoenix Stadium as preparations continue for Super Bowl XLIX Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. The New England Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks in the game on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel)

With Super Bowl 49 set to kick-off Sunday at 5:30pm (CST) in Glendale, Arizona, an often overlooked factor to success for the AFC and NFC competitors — the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks — is their pre-game meal. In reality, it is much more than just the final meal 3.5 to 5 hours before the contest. The success of the winner may well be determined with the two preceding meals — the night before and the morning of the big game.

Having designed such meals in almost every team and individual sport imaginable, and having worked with numerous dietitians, whom I helped train in the early era of sports nutrition to determine what an athlete should put into his or her stomach before, during, and after an athletic event, the meal composition can make the difference between winning or just competing.

Based on numerous dietary questions from parents of children competing in athletic events, I worked with a team of professionals several years ago to design a free, comprehensive guide to what I call Performance Fueling: Before, During, and After Athletic Competition. You can download it free of charge from my website – listed under the “books” heading.

I also emphasize that, “As with any program involving manipulation of diet and exercise to enhance athletic performance, you should check with your personal or team physician for approval. In addition, you will need to seek advice and guidance from your athletic trainer (and dietitian), regarding proper rehydration guidelines based on your scale weight fluctuation during pre- and post-training and competition.”

When it comes to planning a meal prior to competition, no one single food will ensure top performance. Each person is unique and should experiment to learn which foods, and how much of them, work best for their body.

Follow the ABC’s (incorporate fruits and vegetables, alter carbohydrate relative to activity, and select lean protein sources) of nutrition to build a balanced meal plan, and pay attention to meal timing. For a large meal to digest, you should eat 3-5 hours before the event. For a smaller meal, allow 2-3 hours, and for a blenderized meal – 1-2 hours. A small snack may take 30 minutes to 1 hour to digest.

From a hydration standpoint, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which I have been a member for 26 years, emphasizes among other salient points that, “It is recommended that individuals consume a nutritionally balanced diet and drink adequate fluids during the 24-hour period before an event, including the meal prior to exercise, to promote proper hydration before exercise or competition.

It is recommended that athletes drink about 17 oz. of fluid 2 hours before exercise to promote adequate hydration and allow time for excretion of excess ingested water. During exercise, athletes should start drinking early and at regular intervals in an attempt to consume fluids at a rate sufficient to replace all the water lost through sweating, or consume the maximal amount that can be tolerated. Ingested fluids should be between 59-72 degrees (F) and flavored to enhance palatability and promote fluid replacement.

According to my dietitian, Jodie Muhleisen, who is certified in sports nutrition,

“The goal of the pre-game meal is to provide energy while minimizing the risk of GI (gastrointestinal) discomfort.” Therefore, says Muhleisen, dining with a NFL player prior to a game may include:

  • 6-8 oz. grilled chicken breast
  • 1 large, plain sweet potato (butter optional)
  • 1cup green beans lightly sauteed’ in olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chilled, fresh peaches

It would also be important for the players to hydrate properly with water or a sports drink leading up to game time.  Some players may also need to eat a banana or a sports bar  (Power Bar) thirty minutes prior to kick off. As with any change in dietary habits, a pre-game meal should be tested in advance for its effectiveness to provide energy and accelerate recovery.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. Contact him at