Children's Hospital Colorado

How to Eat Before a Competition

Does it matter what you eat before practice or competition?

A lot of athletes in high school sometimes get terrible intestinal cramps during practice or right in the middle of competition. They hurt so bad that you might need to stop and walk until they go away – and because of that, you might be unable to practice or compete at your highest potential. If you have no idea why you are getting these cramps, you probably suffer through them.

Possible culprit of the painful cramps

The low carbohydrate, high fat content of fast food lunches take a long time to digest. During an afternoon practice or race, working muscles have priority over intestines for blood flow and oxygen – leaving that fast food undigested.

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 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.

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