Nutrition for Athletes Part II


Last Updated: Apr 19, 2019

The right foods at the right time are essential for maximum sport performance.

In Nutrition for Athletes Part I, we talked about the importance of eating a balanced, nutritious diet every day to provide adequate energy for growth, exercise, and maximum performance. Equally important is the timing of those meals before, during, and after exercise or competition.


Exercising on a full stomach can leave you with an upset stomach, nausea, and cramping. In order to make sure you have enough energy to fuel you through your exercise, but avoid stomach discomfort, you should allow your body to fully digest the meal prior to the start of the event. Typically, this means eating anywhere from one to four hours before the start of the event for most athletes, depending on what and how much you’ve eaten. Everyone is different though so experiment a little with the timing before the “big event."

What do you eat? A pre-event meal should include foods high in carbohydrates that are easy to digest, such as fruit, pasta, breads, energy bars (not “protein” bars), and drinks. These foods will provide your muscles with plenty of stored energy (glycogen) to get you through a long, tough workout or game.

Planning will be crucial. You should consider the time of your event, the size of your meal, and the energy that will be required during your event. Fluid intake should also be paid attention to. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day, every day will ensure that you are always properly hydrated when it comes to game time.

Suggested pre-event foods

Three to four hours before the event:

  • Fresh fruit such as apples, peaches, oranges, bananas
  • Fruit and vegetable juices such as orange, tomato, or V-8
  • Bread, bagel
  • Pasta with red sauce (avoid cream sauce)
  • Baked potato
  • 1 cup of cereal with 1% or skim milk or soymilk
  • Energy bar
  • Low-fat or non-fat yogurt
  • Bread or toast with small amount of peanut butter, lean meat, or low-fat cottage cheese
  • 20 oz of sports drink

Two to three hours before the event:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Bread, bagel
  • Low-fat or non-fat yogurt
  • 16 oz of sports drink

Less than an hour before event:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • 8–10 oz of sports drinks
  • Energy gels

Foods to avoid

Rule of thumb should be to keep pre-event meals low in fat. Fat is much more difficult to digest and takes much longer for your body to digest. Fast food, hot dogs, nachos, doughnuts, candy bars, and potato chips are all very high in fat and will “stay with you” and slow you down during competition. Not to mention, these foods have very little nutritional value.

Again, every athlete is different so always experiment with foods and meal planning before the day of your competition. What works for your teammate may not work for you.

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