Football Camp: Nutrition Plan

This resource was provided by Training and Conditioning

Coaches and athletes are realizing that a meal plan is as critical as a game plan. We asked five nutritionists to serve up five different menus for some very specific situations.
Your football athletes seem overly fatigued during preseason practice and the coach wants a better nutrition plan for them. Your wrestlers ask for a diet that will help them make weight. One of your basketball players is lactose intolerant. The soccer team needs on-the-go meal ideas. And your heptathlete wants a competition meal plan for her specialized event.

As athletes understand more about how diet affects performance, they are also realizing they sometimes have unique needs. The volleyball player knows her diet needs to be different than the football player’s. The cross country runner knows he shouldn’t be eating the same as the baseball player.

Then there are each athlete’s individual weight goals to consider. Your basketball team may have one player who needs to gain weight and another who needs to lose weight. Add in athletes with allergies, picky eaters, and vegetarians, and the varying combinations of meal plans for athletes is endless.

For this article, we’ve asked five sports nutritionists to show us how they develop a meal plan for a specific athlete or team. From a football squad during two-a-days to a female soccer player who says she doesn’t have time to eat, the menus are tailored for success.


By Amy Bragg

Eat, practice, eat, sleep, eat, meetings, practice, eat. Such is the typical preseason football camp schedule–those exhilarating, yet taxing days when the year’s football team is formed.

Proper nutritional intake is extremely important at this time, and menu planning can be a complex task. Athletes need a lot of energy to endure the physical stress of practice and conditioning sessions combined with the mental demands of meetings and the limited recuperation time.

When planning menus for football camp, I focus on a few main goals:

• Hydration, hydration, hydration
• Timing meals to best utilize the energy and nutrients from food
• Matching athletes’ tremendous energy expenditure
• Preserving weight, especially lean mass gains from the off-season.

The August heat imposes huge fluid and electrolyte demands on the athletes, so providing appealing drink choices at every meal is a priority. We also clearly identify high sodium foods during meals to help cramp-prone athletes make good decisions. Sprinkled throughout the menus are foods like olives, salsa, soups, lunchmeat sandwiches, pickle spears, trail mix, salted mixed nuts, pretzels, and baked chips. Other high sodium menu items include chicken noodle, chicken tortilla, and tomato soups, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

We also track each player’s weight before and after practice to monitor both individual and team weight fluctuations. If the team’s weight is moving down, this will be addressed in the following days’ meal plans.

We pay close attention to the timing of meals, based on the workout plan for that particular day. For example, on Day 9 of preseason camp, athletes will be doing strength workouts at 9 a.m. with rest time in the middle of the day and practice at 4:30 p.m. Therefore, we plan a large breakfast at 7 a.m., recovery drinks after weightlifting, pre-practice lunch at 1:30 p.m., dinner immediately following practice, and a nighttime snack to boost the day’s intake.

On Day 10, there is double practice, at 7:30 a.m. and in the afternoon, so we structure meals differently. Players are encouraged to eat a small pre-practice snack, and brunch is waiting for them as they finish their morning practice. We encourage them to take a short nap afterward, then provide them with a pre-practice lunch, which has to be appealing enough to pull them up from their naps, but also appropriate for pre-practice consumption. Dinner is served after the second practice of the day and is followed by a nighttime snack to cover the day’s expenditure.

To replace all the calories lost during workouts and thus maintain weight, simply getting enough food into each player is another challenge. The schedule and fatigue that often define football camp can very easily turn eating into a chore. Working out in the heat can also zap appetites. Therefore, it’s key to provide athletes with enticing foods that encourage them to eat.

We have found it works well to start meals with cool foods like fruit salad, Jell-O, chicken salad, deli sandwiches, yogurts, and frozen fruit bars. Athletes tend to eat more if they can start with a cold plate and work up to hot entrée foods.

At times when practice and conditioning performance will not be affected, we also offer some indulgent foods, which contain a higher amount of fat and are energy dense. These foods act as “weight support” tools, and they really boost team morale. Comfort foods like King Ranch casserole, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, and fried foods with mashed potatoes and gravy can help maintain weight, especially for the picky eater. However, we also remind athletes to put together well-rounded plates that include leaner protein entrees with fruit and vegetable sides.

And we don’t forget dessert! Strawberry trifle, angel food cake with fruit, and cookies and milk are good choices for providing comfort and calories without too much fat. (“Football Camp” meal plan begins below.)

Amy Bragg, RD, CSSD, LD, is Director of Performance Nutrition at Texas A&M University. She can be reached at:


Day 9
Pre-Conditioning Breakfast:
Turkey sausage
Cinnamon and whole wheat toast
Jelly, peanut butter
Cereal bars
Whole bananas
Fruit salad
Deli sandwich bar
Trail mix
Gatorade bars
Sport Beans
1% and skim milk
1% chocolate milk
100% orange, cranberry, apple, and grape juices
Cherry juice
Sports drinks

Pre-Practice Lunch:
Beef, chicken, and shrimp fajita trio
Sauteed onions and peppers
Corn and flour tortillas
Charro beans
Mexican rice
Chicken quesadillas
with guacamole
Mild salsa
Cilantro lime chicken soup
House salad
Honey mustard and house dressings
Assorted whole fruit
Trail mix
Jamba juice smoothies
Sport Beans
Water, sports drinks

Boiled shrimp
Strip steaks
Chicken alfredo
Baked potatoes with fixings
Broccoli with parmesan cheese sauce
Garlic toast
Salad bar
Tomato soup with croutons
Cheesecake and assorted fruit desserts
Sports drinks

Evening Snack:
Chicken fajita baked potato
Chocolate chip cookie
Water, 1% milk, cherry juice

Day 10
Post-Practice Brunch:
Strip steak
Hash brown potatoes
Quiche lorraine
Yogurt parfait
Waffles with sliced strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and slivered almonds
Cereal bars
Whole bananas
Whole wheat and sourdough toast
Assorted bagels
Butter, jelly, peanut butter, cream cheese
Fruit salad
Deli sandwich bar
1% and skim milk
1% chocolate milk
100% orange, cranberry, apple, and grape juices
Cherry juice
Sports drinks

House salad with Italian vinaigrette and ranch dressings
Tuscan bean soup
Bread with salted butter and olive oil
Honey pecan salmon
Spaghetti and meatballs
Penne with meat sauce
Parmesan cheese
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower
Deli sandwich bar
Whole fruit
Trail mix
Sports drinks

Post-Practice Dinner:
Roasted turkey breast
Sliced honey ham
Cornbread stuffing with
giblet gravy
Cranberry sauce
Deviled eggs
Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Cream corn
Strawberry Jell-O salad
Dinner rolls with salted butter
Deli sandwich bar
Chicken and rice soup
Pumpkin pie with whipped topping
1% and skim milk
1% chocolate milk
Water, sports drinks

Evening Snack:
Chicken pot pie soup with saltines
Ham and cheese po’boy
Water, sports drinks,
cherry juice

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