Jess Spendlove is the Dietitian Consultant of the GWS Giants FC. In this bite-size episode, she talks about nutrition for game day.

Highlights from the episode:

  • What an athlete should consume during a game
  • Advice for athletes that are overhydrated 
  • Recovery meal and snack post game
  • Caffeine for game day performance
  • Her nutrition eBook with recipes and coupon discount for PLP members

To have Jack answer your questions send us a voice message via this link:

Listen: iTunesSpotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome, Jess. Thanks for jumping on. 

Jess: Thanks for having me, Jack and ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ community. I’m a little bit nervous here representing all the dietitians, first one up. But it can only get better. 

Jack: It’s game day. You’ll thrive. You’ve prepared.

Jess: Yeah, sink or swim.

Jack: Let’s start with tips for preparation. When should an athlete start to prepare for game day in terms of their nutrition? 

Jess: I love talking about this because I think, as a dietician, and I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve spent so much time talking about preseason, which is clearly important, that’s where the credits are banked for the season. But then it’s nearly like athletes, and I’m talking 300 gamers I’ve seen rock up at a one o’clock game and be like, ‘Jess, I’m hungry.’ And it’s like they didn’t have a strategy for the different times that they play.

I like talking about game day preparation, because similar to training and how you should have a formula, I think the same should be said and done for your nutrition on game day. And a lot of athletes have the same warm-ups or activations. So, having a routine. And this doesn’t have to mean that everything is to the T, and if they can’t get what they need, then they’re hijacked and then their preparation’s off. But it’s just having a formula to guide that preparation. So, no matter what time they’re playing, whether it’s 9, 11, 12, in the afternoon, they’ve still prepared in enough time for that.

The classic thing is the dinner the night before, which, of course, is important. But one thing I used to recommend is 24 hours out, that’s when you should start really thinking, or that’s what I recommend, you should start thinking about that game day nutrition and really focusing on your hydration, really focusing on your carbohydrate and your electrolytes. And that just helps adjust depending on what time that game is. 

Jack: It sounds like the time of game was something you referenced. So, you work back from your workout, when the player’s playing. If they’re playing at 12 o’clock, work back 24 hours from the 12 o’clock game. And that would change, if they’re playing a night game.

Jess: That’s exactly right. Because, obviously, people listening to this are probably playing at all different times. And if you’re playing an early morning game and you only start preparing that night before, it could be a very different story to if you’re playing a night game and you’ve started preparing the night before.

So, that 24 hour window is a good guide. But, in saying that, the four hours leading into a game really is that time to start applying this formula that I’ve termed or I just like to reference, it’s kind of that pre-game meal window, pregame snack, and then that primer.

So, it’s the ability to have a good meal, which is going to sustain the energy reserves, but also appetite. You don’t want to be getting hungry during your warmup or in a game. Not the goal. And also you want to be having a snack that you’re comfortable with and you’re ready to perform and again, like I said, be satisfied.

And then right in that 30 to 60 minute window before, when you’re really priming your body, it’s really good to have a priming snack which is similarly going to do the same thing. So, that four hour window of the meal-snack-primer is a nice way to really have that acute window lead into a game.

Jack: I love that framework. Thank you for sharing that. And I can definitely attest to that. I think being hungry would not be where you want to be trying to be a team player on game day. And it sounds like preparation is really important. What should an athlete be consuming during the game? Is it just water or are there other things they should be thinking of?

Jess: For the duration of an AFL game you definitely want to be consuming some carbohydrates and electrolytes, however that comes for different athletes. For some people that might be a sports drink, for others it might be water, and then they’re choosing gels and salt tablets, obviously, depending on people’s ages. So, there’s all different ways, shapes and forms.

But what you’re doing in a game, you’re competing at a high performance and there’s the physical output, but then there’s also the skill execution and that decision making. So, you want to be ingesting something to make sure that you’re continuing to execute and not fatigue, and your decision-making and your skills are as accurate as they can be at that point till the end of the game. 

Jack: And what would be your advice for players that might be overhydrating and they have to go to the toilet quite regularly throughout a game? How do you find that sweet spot of being well-hydrated and not being disturbed by your performance?

Jess: It is a sweet spot. I’ve seen athletes weigh out heavier than what they weigh in. So, drinking to thirst or having a strategy is something which also needs to be worked on as does familiarizing yourself with what you’re eating. 

The first thing is weighing yourself pre and post. You know about a 2% weight difference is a good amount for how much you should lose, but also not too much that you’re dipping into a zone where you’re going to impact your fatigue or your power output. So, that’s kind of first step.

And then the second thing, if you really want to drill down, like in a training session you can essentially weigh yourself pre and post and also track what you’ve consumed to work out what your sweat rate is. And that will give you a little bit of a guide. But that’s pretty technical. Another way of thinking about it is, about a cup of water or sports drinks, I’d say 200 ml, every 15 to 30 minutes. That’s about a good amount for most people to consume.

Jack: And do you have any tips for athletes who struggle to eat post game?

Jess: Definitely. Look, I totally get it: you’ve just exerted yourself and the lactic acid… And it was a conversation that I was always having with certain players. The one thing I would say is the same reason you go to training to train yourself, to get fitter faster, stronger, you can train your stomach and your brain to know what it needs and be able to tolerate it.

So, I think first of all, knowing that. Second of all, use training as an opportunity to practice getting some nutrition in. And third of all, start with something. It doesn’t have to be the perfect post-game recovery meal or shake or snack, whatever that is. Start with something that you enjoy, that you can tolerate and then train yourself to have a bit more.

Jack: So, if the only option is, let’s say for community athletes, the leftover takeaway food, you’d prefer them to have that rather than wait until an hour and a half of the drive home? 

Jess: Yes. If they haven’t brought anything or they can’t bring anything or that’s all there is. That was a point of contention with different high-performance managers over the years. My philosophy was: if we’re not providing what they want or they don’t have access to it, they’re going to just be buying whatever they can get on the way home.

So, different foods at different times. Even chips at times, which are carbs, but also high fat, but they’re salty, so they can drive thirst. And if they settle the stomach, then allow the athlete to potentially ingest more foods. Something’s better than nothing. 

Jack: And what about the 30 minute window? Does an athlete need to consume something within 30 minutes? 

Jess: It’s ideal to start the recovery process asap. But it’s not, if you miss it, then there’s no point. I think as well the initial meal and snack is, of course, important. But I know when we’ve spoken before I’ve talked about each game is a sprint across the season, which is a marathon.

So, what you do consistently across the next 24 hours and across the week for your recovery will have more of an impact. Yes, you need to drink something nutritious to enhance that recovery straight away. But your sleep and your nutrition, in particular across that 24 hours in the week, that’s very, very important.

Jack: And is the recovery meal and snack enough from a nutrition sense post-game? 

Jess: It will definitely start the process. So, some of the popular options I like or use over the years, like Mexican. Whether it’s burritos or burrito bowl, burgers, like good quality ones would fight pizzas. That’s definitely enough to start, but really that 24 hour window following is that complete refuel and kind of recalibrate for the week.

Jack: And then what about caffeine for game day performance? What should athletes that haven’t used it before, but are not far away from practice matches to experiment with their game day nutrition, is caffeine, are you a fan of it? And if you are, what do you need to understand if you’re going to play around with it during the practice match of this upcoming season?

Jess: One thing I’d just add there, which you’ve touched on and which I haven’t mentioned, is whatever we’re talking about, food or supplements, if that’s appropriate for your age, you want to practice before. You never want to rock up on game day and you’re trying something new. That’s a recipe for disaster. Aside from that formula I mentioned, you want it to be familiar and something that you know you can tolerate.

Similar to caffeine, particularly if you’re over 18. If you’re under, that’s definitely an individualized conversation, but 18 and over. If it’s something you want to consider practicing your preseason games or preseason training or your trials, practice your dosing. You want to be ingesting at 30 to 60 minutes before and just see how you feel because everyone has different thresholds. And when you’re nervous and you’re competing, that threshold can be lowered. So, the amount that you’re familiar with might actually feel like more.

So, the long and the short, I think there is a place for it with people that are definitely 18 and over. And it’s definitely something you want to practice before trying on game day. 

Jack: Thank you for that. Lucas sent through a question for you, Jess. He’s written, ‘What would be an ideal dinner the day before a game?’

Jess: The really common one a lot of people go for is pasta. And to be honest, it’s not superior to any other kind of high-carbohydrate-based dish. So, if you don’t tolerate or like pasta, it could be a rice-based dish or a rice-noodle-based dish, or even roast vegetables. It’s more about that quantity of carbohydrate, which you tolerate.

And when you think about pasta, it’s only pasta and meat and… To be honest, normally I’d be like, we want colors at all the meals and snacks. But leading into a game, that’s kind of up to the individual. So, if you’re subbing a pasta, you would just want to have a heavy rice-based dish, rice noodles, quinoa roast veggies, that kind of thing. They’re all one and the same, but it’s just the quantity of that carbohydrate, which is important. 

Jack: Amazing. Thank you so much, Jess, for coming on and upskilling us with game day preparation. I know you’ve got a few eBooks and PLP members. There’s a special little coupon code, am I right?

Jess: Yes, thank you. I would have forgotten. I actually have forgotten what the code is. I think it’s PLP 20. But yeah, there’s a nutrition for AFL and a nutrition for AFLW, which is essentially all of these game day staff and more in a 70 page eBook. Best place for that is on my Instagram, like @lincolbio, or I’m pretty sure it’s PLP 20. If it’s not, DM me and I’ll find out what it is and I’ll send you one. 

Jack: Awesome. So, recipes are included in that? 

Jess: Yeah, there’re some recipes. Probably my favorite thing in there is the game day nutrition timeline. Like that 24 hour window and the types of foods and nutrients. And when it starts to change, like the types of carbs, when you go from high-fiber slow-release to more low-fiber HGI. There’s a place for all of it. So, that’s probably my favorite section in there, which ties in nicely with today’s little chat. 

Jack: Absolutely. Now, check it out, guys. Thank you again for helping out everyone with nutrition advice. Where can people find you if they’re interested to learn more about your work? 

Jess: Thank you. Best place is Instagram @jess_spendlove_dietician.

Jack: Amazing.

Jess: Thank you, Jack.

Jack: Awesome. Thanks, Jess.

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