Navigating Tailgating: Smart Strategies For A Healthier Football Season


Ryan Day Coaching

Smoked BBQ, cold beer, fried chicken, biscuits, more cold beer… I could write an entire email about my favorite tailgate foods. But that’s not why we’re here.

Two College Football Saturdays are in the books, and the first NFL Sunday kicks off in just a few hours. This is my favorite time of the year, but boy is it harder to stick to healthy habits during the months ending in -er.

Tailgating feasts, watch parties at a friend’s, meeting up at a bar to watch the game – there are plenty of chances for fun and just as many chances for our health goals to be sabotaged during the fall.

Luckily, it can be done. And you can even do it without being the person at the tailgate who only eats carrots and hummus. That person is no fun.

So, how do you stay true to your wellness journey while enjoying football season to the fullest?

Let’s start with this – It’s a common misconception that tailgating and healthy living are mutually exclusive.

They’re not. You don’t have to choose between enjoying your favorite tailgate foods (or drinks) and maintaining your health. You can have both.

Here are some strategies to help you do just that.

Strategy 1: Pre-game exercise

Start the day strong. Before you head off to the tailgate lots or the bar, try to do some exercise in the morning.

If you’re traveling for a game this becomes a little bit harder. I get it. But even something as simple as going for a run or a few rounds of pushups & squats can go a long way.

And guess what – you’ll have more energy throughout the day from doing this. Win win.

Strategy 2: Pre-game fueling

Eat a healthy serving of protein (~40g) and one serving each of fruit and vegetables before you go anywhere. Seriously.

Like exercising, this will also give you a healthy start to the day.

You’ll also find yourself a little more satiated when you get where you’re going, which will naturally help you eat less of your typical tailgate foods.

Strategy 3: BYO Dish

While a veggie platter is always a good option, I have something that will be well-received by all – grilled skewers.

Marinate some chicken, steak, peppers, and onions, throw them on some skewers, and grill ‘em up. Everybody loves these, and they’re so good for you.

Additional tip: eat one of these before digging into everything else.

Strategy 4: Hydration Station

Don’t forget to hydrate.

Keep the water flowing all day, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. I try to rotate in one water per beer.

In addition to keeping you hydrated, we get two additional benefits from drinking water all day.

  1. Helps keep the hangover at bay.
  2. Makes you have to pee a lot, which keeps you up and moving.

Strategy 5: Don’t eat like an asshole

Don’t eat until you feel like you can’t breathe. I know, the food is really good. But when has eating until you’re absolutely stuffed ever ended well?

I’ll answer. Never.

You feel lethargic, can’t get your beer down, and probably end up in a gross port-a-potty.

Enjoy some of those tailgate foods we love. Life is too short not to.

But a rule of thumb – If the next bite makes is going to make it hard to drink something carbonated, you probably don’t need another bite.

Strategy 6: Stay moving

Don’t forget to stay active while you’re watching ball.

Go for a walk around the tailgate lot. Throw a football around. Offer somebody else your seat at the bar so you can stand up instead of sitting.

Incorporating some activity helps burn off some of what you’re consuming and keeps your energy levels up so you don’t have to go home at halftime because you’re tired.

Strategy 7: Win the week

This one is my favorite. Stay consistent with your nutrition and exercise Monday to Friday.

When you do this, you’ve already won 5 of the 7 days that week. That’s over 70%, which is pretty dang good.

By winning Monday to Friday, you set yourself up for a full week where you take another step toward your health goals.

While I don’t recommend going totally off the rails on gameday, you certainly have more flexibility in what you choose to enjoy while still making positive progress for the week.

Health is about balance, not restriction. This approach allows you to enjoy Saturdays or Sundays without guilt because you’ve already laid a strong foundation of health habits.

You get one life, and enjoying football season should be part of that life (IMHO). Hopefully this helps you do that.

Let me know what other strategies you use to stay healthy on gameday.

May your favorite team win. Unless they’re playing Clemson 😀