Children's Hospital Colorado

How to Eat Before a Competition

A teenage athlete wearing headphones and peeling an orange.Does it really matter what you eat before practice or competition?

Let me tell you a little story.

I participated on the cross country team in high school. I would sometimes get terrible intestinal cramps during practice or right in the middle of my 5k race. They hurt so bad that I would have to stop and walk until they went away – and because of that, I was unable to practice or compete at my highest potential. My coach and I had no idea why I was getting these cramps, so I suffered through them.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know exactly what caused those painful cramps – the Big Mac or Taco Supreme that I had for lunch that day!

The low carbohydrate, high fat content of my fast food lunches took a long time to digest. During an afternoon practice or race, my working muscles had priority over my intestines for blood flow and oxygen – leaving my Big Mac undigested. I was not lovin’ it!

Good pre-game nutrition maximizes your ability to compete

  • Working muscles need carbohydrate for fuel. Good pre-event meals contain high carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, small amounts of fat, and plenty of fluids. They also digest quickly and easily.
  • “Practice” your pre-game snacks and meals. Experiment with different foods, drinks, and timing to find what works best for you.

Examples of meals that will help prepare you to compete at your best

Let’s start with dinner the night before an afternoon game, match, or race.

  • Dinner – grilled chicken breast with BBQ sauce, baked potato, light sour cream, green beans, 1% milk, and water
  • Breakfast – bowl of cereal with 1% milk, banana, and 100% fruit juice
  • Morning snack – granola bar, fruit, and water
  • Lunch – turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato, pretzels, carrot sticks, drinkable yogurt, and water
  • Pre-game snack – ½ hour to 1 hour before your event – dry cereal, grapes, and water

These meals and snacks are low in fat to help prevent intestinal discomfort during training and competition, but remember that fat is a great source of energy for growing athletes. A more moderate amount of fat can be incorporated into other meals when quick digestion is not an issue.

Learn more about sports nutrition.

Written by: Laura Watne, MS, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado.


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