Eating Before Competing
By Nancy Clark, MS, RD
Avoid food for several hours before you exercise or compete?
How about a snack or an energy bar before you swim?
Is the thought of food on race day a little more than you can handle?
Experimenting can give you top energy and performance.
Is it bad to eat before exercising or competing?
As long as your activity is moderate (at a pace you can maintain for more than 30 minutes), your body can digest food during exercise.
Pre-activity eating can help you significantly by supplying energy for sustained exercise and preventing the lightheadedness, fatigue, and indecisiveness that can result from low blood sugar.
The food you eat 5 minutes to 4 hours before activity helps fuel your muscles and brain, and it can help you perform better.
For a few people whose activity is moderately paced, eating causes gastric upset or intestinal problems.
Learn the pre-exercise eating plan that works best for you.
With intense activities like XTERRA, blood flow is diverted from the stomach to the working muscles.
If you’re exercising or competing intensely, you'll probably want to allow 3-4 hours between eating and the event.
That's the time needed for a typical meal to empty from the stomach.
Otherwise, you may have discomfort or even nausea.
What can I do before a10amstart?
Carbohydrates are very important for maintaining normal blood sugar (the fuel used by the brain) and glycogen (the fuel used by the muscles).
Because your blood sugar drops as you sleep, you need to replenish the depleted stores or your morning performance could suffer.
Plan to eat a carbohydrate-based breakfast between 6 am and 8 am; then, if you're still tired, go back to bed.
Cereal, bread, fruit, and fruit juice are excellent choices that may help you concentrate better and respond more quickly during a morning event.
You'll have a better chance of maintaining a high energy level the next morning if you have a substantial bedtime meal or snack that's low in fat.
I get nervous before competition and eating is difficult.What can I do?
Plan to eat several hours before activity, and eat familiar foods that won't cause a surprise stomach upset.
Any fuel is better than none, so try to consume at least 3-500 calories.
Many athletes like oatmeal or other hot or cold cereals with low-fat milk.
Other soothing, carbohydrate-rich choices are bagels with a little light cream cheese, yogurt, pancakes, or French toast.
If the thought of solid food turns your stomach, you may prefer a meal replacement drink.
I buy a candy bar for quick energy before working out.Does sugar hurt sports performance?
Research suggests that candy doesn't hurt most people's sports performance.
In one study, reported in the March 1987 Journal of Applied Physiology, athletes who ate a big breakfast 4 hours before and a candy bar 5 minutes before hard exercise improved 20% during the exercise test compared with when they ate nothing.
The results of the study also suggest that just candy and no breakfast before exercise improved performance 10% in comparison with eating nothing.
Some people are sensitive to pre-exercise sugar, however, and have a rebound blood-sugar low that makes them feel weak.
The safest bet is to eat the candy within 5 to 10 minutes of starting activity. This span is too short for the body to respond. (Or, eat the candy more than 45 minutes before exercise to allow insulin levels to drop.)
Candy is better than nothing, but it's not premium fuel. It's better to eat a more wholesome snack like cereal, a banana or apple, yogurt, or pretzels and juice.
The urge for a quick energy fix is a sign you've eaten too little food earlier in the day.
To prevent cravings, eat a hearty breakfast and lunch. Your responsibility is to fuel yourself well.
The key: Plan ahead.
The best pre-sport meals are carbohydrate-based: for example, spaghetti and tomato sauce (a little lean meat in the sauce is fine); or potatoes or rice, vegetables, and dinner rolls with a small serving of chicken or other protein-rich food (see "Timing Your Preactivity Meals," below).
As with any pre-game meal, choose foods that you know will digest easily.
Limit fried and high-fat foods like burgers, fried chicken, french fries, and nachos.
These and similar fast foods take a long time to digest.
Too many athletes--most of whom know they should have a carbohydrate-rich pre-event dinner--fail to plan meals into their schedule.
Make time to eat well. Build a ritual that enhances sports performance. It will help your mental preparation too.
Timing Your Pre-activity Meals
Sample carbohydrate-rich menus:
Large Meal Light Meal Snack
Stash 1,000 calories of tried-and-true food in your go bag. (Never try new foods before an important event.)
Granola bars or energy bars (about 200 calories each)
Remember, you, your physician, and your nutritionist need to work together to discuss nutrition concerns.
The above information is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.
Ms Clark is director of Nutrition Services at SportsMedicine Brookline in the Boston area. She is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, a fellow of the American Dietetic Association, and a member of its practice group, Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutritionists (SCAN).
Nancy Clark, MS, RD
Director of Nutrition Services, SportsMedicine Associates
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