Athletes need to carefully plan a pre-competition eating to prevent any distracting symptoms of hunger during competition and to maintain energy stores during competition.

When To Eat
Exercising on a full stomach is not the ideal. Food that remains in your stomach during an event may cause stomach upset, nausea, and cramping. To make sure you have enough energy, yet reduce stomach discomfort, you should allow a meal to fully digest before the start of the event. This generally takes 1 to 4 hours, depending upon what and how much you’ve eaten. Everyone is a bit different, and you should experiment prior to workouts to determine what works best for you.

If you have an early morning race or workout, it’s best to get up early enough to eat your pre-race meal. If not, you should try to eat or drink something easily digestible about 20-30 minutes before the event. The closer you are to the time of your event the less you should eat. You can have a liquid meal closer to your event than a solid meal because your stomach digests liquids faster.

What To Eat
A pre-event meal should include foods that are high in carbohydrates, and to digest. These include foods such as pasta, fruits, breads, energy bars and drinks. Carbohydrates also help increase stored energy (glycogen) in the muscles. Depleted glycogen stores can result is "hitting the wall." When this occurs, your begin to rely  on anerobic metabolism  met for the needed energy. This is much more difficult and happens at a much slower rate of conversion.

Planning is essential if you are competing in an all-day event, such as track meets, swimming meets, or other tournaments. Consider the time of your event, the amount of your meal and the energy required. Also, be aware of the amount of fluid you consume. You should plan ahead and prepare meals and snacks that you have tried before and know will sit well with you. Do not experiment with something new on the event day.

Suggested Pre-Competition Foods

1 hour or less before competition

  • fruit or vegetable juice such as orange, tomato, or V-8, and/or
  • fresh fruit such as apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, or oranges and/or
  • Energy gels
  • up to 1 and a half cups of a sports drink, such as Gatorade.

2 to 3 hours before competition

  • fresh fruit
  • fruit or vegetable juices
  • bread, bagels
  • low-fat yogurt [L]sports drink

3 to 4 hours before competition

  • fresh fruit
  • fruit or vegetable juices
  • bread, bagels
  • pasta with tomato sauce
  • baked potatoes
  • energy bar
  • cereal with low-fat milk
  • low-fat yogurt;
  • toast/bread with limited peanut butter, lean meat, or low-fat cheese
  • 30 oz of a sports drink

Sugar and Performance
Athletes sometimes consume simple carbohydrates such as 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 before the start of the race or event.

If you are an endurance athlete, recent evidence suggests that eating some sugar (like energy bars, some types of candy bars, or sports drinks) 35 to 40 minutes before an event may benefit you by providing energy (glucose) to your exercising muscles when your other energy stores have dropped to low levels. However, you should experiment with such strategies before competition because some people do not perform well after a blood glucose spike.

Caffeine and Performance
Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system. It had been thought to boost endurance by stimulating a greater use of fat for energy, and thereby reserving glycogen in the muscles. Recent research, however, doesn’t support that theory. When caffeine improves endurance, it does so by acting as a stimulant.

Caffeine can have serious side effects for some people. Those who are very sensitive to its’ effects may experience nausea, muscle tremors, and headaches. Too much caffeine is a diuretic, and can result in dehydration, which decreases performance.   

If you compete at an International level, keep in mind that The International Olympic Committee has banned caffeine in certain quantities during international events.


Foods to Avoid Before Exercise
Any foods with a lot of fat can be very difficult and slow to digest. Fast foods, hot dogs, doughnuts, nachos, potato chips, and candy bars are very high in fat and remain in the stomach for a long time. If you eat these foods as pre-event meals, they will likely be with you through competition. Avoid or limit eating these foods for your pre-event meal.

Keep in mind that every one is a bit different and what works for you may not work for you teammate or training partner. Factor in individual preferences and favorite foods, and an eating plan is a highly individualize thing.

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