Pre-Competition Meals for Athletes
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 3, 2023.
What is a precompetition meal?
A precompetition meal provides the calories, nutrients, and liquids you need to complete an athletic competition. The precompetition meal should give you the energy you need to perform and prevent hunger during the competition. It also provides you with the extra liquids you need to avoid dehydration.
When should I eat a precompetition meal?
Eat a large meal at least 3 to 4 hours before a competition to give your body time to digest the food. If you cannot eat a meal 3 to 4 hours before the competition, eat a light meal or snack. The amount of time it takes for your body to digest food is as follows:
- 3 to 4 hours to digest a large meal
- 2 to 3 hours to digest a small meal
- 1 to 2 hours to digest a blended or liquid food
- Less than 1 hour to digest a small snack
What should I eat and drink for a precompetition meal?
Eat foods that you like and that you usually eat. New foods may cause stomach problems, such as diarrhea or stomach cramps. Your precompetition meal should be high in carbohydrates and fluids. Carbohydrates include bread and bread products, rice, pasta, and some vegetables, such as potatoes. Your meal should also be low in fat and protein. Foods that are high in fat or protein take longer to digest than carbohydrates. It may take 5 to 6 hours to digest a meal that is high in fat and protein.
How many carbohydrates should I have in my precompetition meal?
- Four hours before your event, eat 4 grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram of your weight. To figure out your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, your weight in kilograms is 59. If you multiply 59 by 4, you would need about 236 grams of carbohydrates in your precompetition meal.
- Two to 3 hours before your event, eat 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram of your weight.
- One hour before your event, eat 1 gram of carbohydrate for each kilogram of your body weight.
What healthy sources of carbohydrates should I eat?
The following foods have about 30 grams of carbohydrates:
- ½ of a bagel
- 2 slices of bread or 2 (6-inch) flour tortillas
- ⅔ cup of rice
- 1 cup of cooked pasta or oatmeal
- ½ of a large baked potato or 1 cup of mashed potatoes
- 1½ cups of dry, unsweetened cereal
- 1 large banana or 1 large pear
- 1 cup of applesauce or canned fruit
- 1 cup of apple, grapefruit, pineapple or orange juice
What foods or drinks should I avoid?
- Avoid high-fat foods, such as potato chips, french fries, hot dogs, candy bars, and doughnuts. These foods will take longer to digest and may cause stomach discomfort. They may not provide you with enough energy during the competition.
- Avoid carbonated beverages (such as soda), because they may cause stomach discomfort during the competition.
- Avoid high-fiber foods (such as bran muffins), because they may cause gas and stomach discomfort during the competition.
What kind of liquids should I drink and how much should I drink?
Examples of liquids that you can drink 3 to 4 hours before your competition include water, sports drinks, or juice. During the competition, drink water and sports drinks. For competitions that last longer than 1 hour, be sure to drink liquids that contain carbohydrates, such as sports drinks. You may want to weigh yourself before and after the event so you can replace the liquids you lost. Below are some guidelines for drinking the right amount of liquid.
- Drink about 17 ounces of liquid 2 hours before the competition.
- Drink 8 to 16 ounces of liquid 30 minutes before the competition.
- Drink 14 to 40 ounces of liquid every hour during the competition, depending on how much you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you should drink.
- After the competition, drink at least 16 to 24 ounces of liquid for every pound lost during the competition.
What other guidelines should I follow?
Eat healthy foods every day so you have enough energy to train and compete. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about a healthy meal plan you can follow each day.
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