Your Game Day Snacking Plan

Enjoy the big game and your favorite bites that come with it—with a few smart tweaks.

Medically reviewed in April 2021

Updated on January 19, 2022

Every year, by the end of the football season, my jeans have mysteriously shrunk a size. Okay, in truth, the jeans stay the same, but I get bigger. Why?

I’m a football fan (some would say fanatic), so almost every weekend is devoted to watching games with friends and family—and all the eating and drinking that goes with it. After a season’s worth of hot wings, beer, and margaritas, I usually feel like I’ve donned enough padding to play some football myself.

But this year, I’ve vowed to work hard to prevent the weight gain—maybe even harder than I work at creating a winning fantasy football team. I went to the experts for advice and put together what I call the “armchair quarterback diet.” Here’s the play-by-play:

First down: Beverages
There’s nothing like a cold beer to cut the heat of a plate of hot wings. But according to fitness expert Mike Clark, DPT, regularly consuming alcohol can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

For one thing, alcohol and all the add-ins contain a lot of extra calories. And when we drink, we tend to eat. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making it easier to say “yes” to a side of fries with those hot wings.

This year, I’ll be opting for light beer in place of regular beer, and skipping those margaritas. I’m also planning to follow these strategies for cutting calories while drinking, from registered dietitian Keri Gans:

  • Alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water to help slow down your drinking.
  • Try choosing a drink that you are more likely to sip than have many of—for example, a scotch on the rocks as opposed to wine.

It’s easy to want to indulge while watching the big game, but drinking comes with other downsides aside from the calories. So it’s smart to stick to a moderate intake. That means no more than two alcoholic drinks for men and one for women.

Second down: Food
I’ll be using these expert tips to cut back on game-day calories from food:

  • Chips: Instead of fried, greasy potato chips, Hungry Girl author Lisa Lillien suggests baked chips or home-baked kale chips. Air-popped popcorn is another great choice.
  • Pizza: If you need that cheesy, crunchy experience, shop for healthy frozen pizza before the game, suggests Andrea Pennington, MD. Be sure to check the label and look for brands with lower amounts of saturated fat and calories. Another tip: Whether it’s frozen or take-out, choose thin-crust pizza topped with vegetables. (If you want a hit of protein, add chicken rather than saturated fat-laden sausage or pepperoni.)
  • French fries: Dr. Pennington advises choosing baked fries instead of French fries. This simple swap can save about 150 calories per serving.
  • Buffalo wings: Instead of fatty deep-fried wings, try cornmeal-crusted boneless baked wings. Pair those with a light blue cheese dip or yogurt dip to save additional calories. If fried chicken is your game, you can have the flavor without the extra fat with this oven “fried” chicken recipe.
  • Portion control: By using a 10-inch plate instead of a 12-inch plate, I can reduce my calorie intake by as much as 22 percent, according to dietitian Kate Geagan.

For the record, I’ll be bringing veggies and store-bought yogurt dip to the tailgate to help me avoid the ribs and wings my friends are cooking in their smoker—and the pimento cheese spread my friends are bringing (I do live in the South, after all!).

Third down: Exercise
If I overindulge in the ribs or wings, I know I’ll need to do some additional exercise to work off those calories. Walking my dogs (I have two high-energy, 60-pound rescue mutts) for an extra hour each week will burn about 200 calories. Even something as fun as dancing (or doing a touchdown dance, in my case), can burn three to six times more calories than sitting.

So that’s it! With these strategies, my jeans should still fit by the time my birthday rolls around in early spring.

I wish you all a happy and healthy football season, and may your team always win—unless, of course, they’re playing my team, the East Carolina Pirates. Go Pirates!

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