Precompetition Meals

What's the purpose of the precompetition meal?
The precompetition meal serves two purposes: to keep you from feeling hungry before and during the event and to maintain the levels of sugar in your blood for your exercising muscles to use during training and competition.

Many young athletes often skip meals before they train or workout, especially if the workout is in the early morning. Skipping meals or not eating before an early morning workout lowers the stored energy in your body and can impair your performance, particularly if your workout involves endurance training that lasts 30 minutes or longer.

When should I eat my precompetition meal?
Your stomach should not be full during your event. In general, it takes 1 to 4 hours for your stomach to digest a meal and empty it into your intestines. If you are nervous the digestive process may take even longer. Food that remains in your stomach during competition may cause indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. If you eat your pre- event meal 1 to 3 hours before the start of your competition, your stomach will be almost empty during the event.

What's a good precompetition meal?
Your pre-event meal should include foods that are high in carbohydrates like breads, pasta, fruits, or vegetables. These foods are removed rapidly from your stomach and intestines. Carbohydrates also help build up the stored energy in your body for use later during your event.

To avoid indigestion or nausea, the closer you are to your event the less you should eat. You can have a liquid meal closer to your competition than a solid meal because liquids are emptied from your stomach faster. This is especially useful if you are nervous and tense.

If you compete at all-day events such as track meets, swimming meets, or tournaments, nutritious food choices may be a problem because you could be tempted by whatever is available at convenient concession stands. Consider the amount of time you have between your events, bring nutritious foods, and plan accordingly.

Suggested precompetition menus include the following:

1 hour or less before competition

fruit and vegetable juice such as orange, tomato, or V-8, and/or

fresh fruit such as apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, or oranges and/or

1 and a half cups of a commercial sport drink like Gatorade.

2 to 3 hours before competition

fresh fruit, fruit and vegetable juices, and/or

breads; bagels; English muffins with limited amounts of butter, margarine, or cream cheese; or lowfat yogurt; and/or

4 cups of a commercial sports drink like Gatorade.

3 to 4 hours before competition

fresh fruit, fruit and vegetable juices, and

breads; bagels; baked potatoes; cereal with lowfat milk; lowfat yogurt; sandwiches with a small amount of peanut butter, lean meat, or lowfat cheese; and/or

7 and one-half cups of a commercial sports drink.

Does eating sugary foods before exercise improve performance?
Athletes sometimes consume simple carbohydrates such as sugars, honey, candy, or soft drinks right before exercise in hopes of getting "quick energy." Unfortunately, eating sugary foods won't provide it. Most of the energy for exercise comes from foods eaten several hours or even days prior to the start of the race or competition.

However, if you are an endurance athlete, new evidence suggests that eating some sugary foods (like energy bars, some types of candy bars, or sports drinks) 35 to 40 minutes before competition may benefit you by providing energy (glucose) to your exercising muscles when your other energy stores have dropped to low levels. Nevertheless, some athletes are sensitive to having their blood sugar levels go up and down quickly, and eating sugary foods right before their event could harm their performance. You need to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Does caffeine improve performance?
Initially, researchers thought that caffeine improved endurance performance by stimulating a greater use of fat for energy so that less of the stored energy in your muscles (glycogen) was burned. However, more recent caffeine studies don't support that theory. When caffeine improves endurance, it does so by acting as a stimulant.

Caffeine does not help everyone. Some people are extremely sensitive and have negative side effects including nausea, muscle tremors, and headaches. Too much caffeine can cause you to produce more urine and lose more water, especially in hot weather. You could become dehydrated and hurt your performance.

The International Olympic Committee has declared caffeine an illegal drug in international competition. Caffeine- containing tablets used prior to or during exercise should be used with caution due to their extremely high concentration and the possibility of overdosing.

What should I avoid for my precompetition meal?
The hot dogs, doughnuts, nachos, potato chips, and candy bars found at most concession stands are extremely high in fat and not digested quickly. These foods eaten as pre- event meals will likely be in your stomach much of the morning or afternoon. Avoid or limit eating these foods for your pre-event meal.

Developed with and licensed from Clinical Reference Systems, Ltd.
Copyright 1997 Clinical Reference Systems

Last updated August 14, 1998