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An array of breakfast items

Breakfast of champions?

What the players might (and should) eat on Super Bowl Sunday

By Patty Mattern

Published on February 3, 2005

If they eat the right breakfast Sunday morning, they could be celebrating with champagne Super Bowl night. Professional athletes need to be smart when they choose what to eat leading up to competitions, because good nutrition plays a role in performance, nutrition experts say. While there is no inside scoop on what players for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles plan to eat before Super Bowl XXXIX Sunday, the College of Human Ecology's Carrie Peterson knows what they should eat. Peterson, an assistant clinical specialist in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, is also a nutrition consultant for the Minnesota Vikings.

"Many players are looking at 2,000 calories for breakfast whereas the rest of us eat 2,000 calories for the whole day," Peterson says.

"They're probably going to have a decent-sized breakfast--one that is higher in carbohydrates--with pancakes, French toast, fresh fruits," Peterson says. Bacon, sausage, and eggs will help round out their meal. Peterson figures their breakfast should break down into 55 percent carbs, 27 percent fat, and 18 percent protein. What exactly is a good-sized breakfast? That means different things for different people. "The 195-pound player's breakfast is going to differ from the 395-pound player's," Peterson says. "Many players are looking at 2,000 calories for breakfast whereas the rest of us eat 2,000 calories for the whole day." The calories are needed to replenish their muscles, she said. At midmorning, players should stretch and relax and at about 11:30 a.m., they should eat again, Peterson says. "They should eat a moderate-sized meal of a little chicken and pasta," she says. Later in the day as kickoff nears, players should snack on fresh fruits or maybe a muffin and drink fruit juices or sports drinks, so they have something in their stomach, she says. But some players don't eat or drink anything before a game and that works for them, she adds. Peterson offers advice for players who may feel their nervousness in the stomach. "Don't try anything new," she says. "Avoid acidy things. If you're going to have fresh fruit, eat a banana rather than an orange."

"For the guys who are not the most talented, if they can take care of themselves and eat right, they can outperform their competition," says Peterson.

During the game, it's important for players to drink sports drinks so they maintain their glycogen levels. Anyone exercising in excess of an hour should drink sport drinks, she says. [Sport drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, are usually isotonic, meaning they contain the same proportion of replenishing electrolytes, sugar, water, and other nutrients as found in the human body.]

Dietitians work with a team's training staff to find the best eating plan for players. "The training staff is always looking for foods that provide energy and foods that best restore muscles," Peterson says. "Unfortunately, many football players who are from the south tend to like to have oven-fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy." It's heavy vs. healthful foods, she says.

"Now if the New England Patriots are eating fried chicken and it works for them, I'm not going to tell them to change it," Peterson says. In fact, the superstars may be able to get by no matter what they eat, she says. It's the non-superstars who can gain the most by eating right. "For the guys who are not the most talented, if they can take care of themselves and eat right, they can outperform their competition," Peterson says. Now that we know what the professional football players should eat Sunday, what about those of us watching the game? Peterson recommends putting out vegetable slices and fresh fruits along with the less healthful snacks most people will undoubtedly have on hand. "By filling up on vegetable slices, we're limiting the bad food we're eating," she says.