Meat and Potatoes or Pasta for dinner? What is the best meal to eat before the big game or road race? It depends. There isn't a "one-meal-fits-all" solution. Individual needs vary based on body size and type. The mode of exercise, as well as the intensity and duration of the activity, will also dictate your food choices.
It is important to note that the pre-competition meal is only one part of a complete training program. For optimal performance, you need a solid foundation of nutritional practices that cover your daily energy needs throughout the training period (see my earlier postings "Fueling Your Exercise" and "Nutrition for the Physically Active Vegetarian"). Because individual requirements vary, you need to discover and understand what works best for you. To determine your ideal pre-event meal, you should experiment with different foods and drinks during your practice/training season, not the day before or of the competition.
To start, you need to understand the purpose that a pre-event meal serves. According to the Joint Position Statement by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Dietetic Association and the Dietetics of Canada, the pre-competition meal "should prepare athletes for the upcoming activity [by ensuring adequate blood sugar and glycogen stores] and leave the individual neither hungry nor with undigested food in the stomach." A pre-competition meal should prevent premature fatigue and loss of strength during the event.
General Rules to Consider Regarding the Pre-Event Meal:
- Consume foods low in fat and fiber. This will reduce gastrointestinal discomfort and promote gastric emptying.
- Choose foods high in carbohydrate. Studies have shown that performance is enhanced when 200-300 grams of carbohydrate are ingested 3-4 hours before the event. Liquid carbohydrate meals, such as sports drinks and low-fat shakes, are acceptable choices.
- Eat foods with a moderate protein content.
- Avoid gas-producing foods such as beans, bran, cabbage, cauliflower and legumes to prevent gastric distress.
- Consume 5-7 ml/kg of body weight of fluids about 4 hours prior to the event to maintain a hydrated state.
- Avoid carbonated beverages. They can cause abdominal distress.
- Know the effects of caffeinated beverages on your body. For some, caffeine can improve performance - for others, it can promote feelings of nervousness and cause stomach upset. It can also lead to dehydration if taken in excess.
- Choose foods to which you are familiar and that you can tolerate well.
General Rules for Timing of Pre-event Meal:
- Rule-of-Thumb: The larger the meal, the longer it takes to digest; and, the more time that will be needed to elapse between ingestion and the start of the competition.
- Small meals (400-500 calories) can be ingested 2-3 hours before the event.
- Large meals, if eaten, should be consumed 5-6 hours before the event, especially if they contain substantial amounts of fat, fiber, and/or protein.
Meal-Timing and Content in Regards to Time of Day of the Event:
- Morning Event: The day of the event consume a light snack such as fruit, low-fat yogurt, or a liquid sports drink. The night before, eat a substantially high carbohydrate meal such as spaghetti with marinara sauce. This meal is of particular importance (especially if you do not have time to eat breakfast the morning of the competition) due to the relatively long period of time that will elapse while sleeping between ingestion and competition. This length of time could leave glycogen stores at levels lower than desired for optimal performance.
- Afternoon Event: The day of the event consume a high carbohydrate breakfast such as pancakes, waffles, or bagels. Lunch should be small (e.g. a salad with low-fat dressing). The night before the competition, consume a high carbohydrate meal.
- Evening Event: The day of the competition both your breakfast and lunch should consist of high carbohydrate foods. A small snack later in the day, such as a baked potato or soup and crackers, can be consumed.
Remember, there is not one food choice that is recommended for everyone. You need to discover what works best for you. Do your experimenting during your practice season instead of near the big game or road race. Following a proper diet throughout your exercise program as well as consuming an appropriate pre-competition meal will help you to perform at your best.
American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada Joint Position Statement "Nutrition and Athletic Performance", Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, pp. 709-731.
American College of Sports Medicine, Current Comments "Report on Pre-Event Meals", DeMarco, H.
Labels: carbohydrates, fat, hydration, pre-competition meal, pre-event meal, protein