Roxanne E Moore: Hi! I am Roxanne Moore, Registered Dietitian and Wellness Director for Sodexo Schools. The food an athlete eats before an event serves several important functions. It helps to prevent low blood sugar or hypoglycemia and alleviate hunger as well as it helps to absorb gastric juices and keep the gut settle.
It also helps to fuel the muscles and psychologically keeps the athletes relaxed, knowing that their body is well fueled. Athletes vary in what they like to eat and what their gut can tolerate. Some people can eat eggs before competition and other people can hardly eat at all.
However, there are some basic rules to follow. You want to eat high carbohydrate meals everyday to fuel and refuel your muscles. This includes food such as whole grains like pasta, rice and cereal as well as fruits. This does not mean candy bars and other refined white flour products.
You want to choose high carb low fat foods, because they tend to digest easier and settle more comfortably in your gut. They also help to maintain a steady blood sugar. Consuming too much fat or protein just before an event can cause indigestion and nausea for some people.
Foods that are most likely to cause intestinal discomfort include some high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables with tough skins or seeds, as well as some brand products and nuts.
You might also want to avoid gas forming foods such as dry beans, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, turnips and sodas should be consumed with caution, simply because they may cause gas, bloating and discomfort.
You also want to allow more time for digestion before intense exercise like distance running or interval training, versus before lower intensity activities like playing catch or walking. You may find that liquid foods leave the stomach faster than solid foods, but some athletes can complain about the swashing effect provided by fluids.
If you have an early morning event, be sure to eat a higher carbohydrate meal and snack before bedtime. In the morning, eat a light high carbohydrate meal or snack 1-2 hours before the start of the event. If you feel too nervous or tense to eat before an activity, then be sure to eat well the day before. Have an extra large bedtime snack in lieu of breakfast.
Here are a few sampled pre-event meals. A large meal that takes about 3-4 hours to digest would include about three ounces of protein which is about the size of the palm of your hand, maybe a baked potato, salad, some cooked vegetables, a roll, fruit cup and water.
Some examples of meals that require only about 2-3 hours to digest would be a sandwich, made with some ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, a little light mayonnaise or maybe a sandwich made with peanut butter and jelly, a piece of fruit, pretzels and some sports drink.
Another option that only takes about 2-3 hours to digest includes oatmeal made with some milk, tiny bit of brown sugar, maybe some almonds and a banana on the side.
A liquid or a blended meal requires only about 1-2 hours to digest. A blended meal could include a cup of non-fat yogurt, mixed with some frozen strawberries, a banana, a half a cup of milk and some ice cubes, or you might even consider using an instant breakfast drink made with low fat milk and blend it with your favorite fruit.
A few foods that only need about one hour to digest include granola bar, piece of fruit, handful of pretzels or maybe some yogurt covered raisins, maybe a small amount of grapes or a sports drink with only about 10-15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces. Also, about a cup of dry low fiber cereal can also be digested pretty quickly.
Remember, carbohydrates leave the gut faster; they boost your energy and should be easier on your gut just before competition compared to meals with extra protein or fat.