Have a big competition coming up? Or are you simply an active person and want to eat in a way that will provide a maximum amount of energy for the day? For optimal energy, you need to master the art of the pre-competition meal. Much of the pre-competition meal is common sense, but some popular misconceptions exist as well. Follow these guidelines to have your body ready to perform at its best:
Three to Four hours Before an Event
You don’t want to eat a large meal just prior to an event because much of your energy will be wasted on digestion. Eating a meal too soon may leave you feeling hungry and fatigued. The body needs at least three hours to digest the food you consume.
High Complex Carbs
We all know that carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, are best for providing the sustained energy we need to compete for long durations. Carbohydrates are easily absorbed and converted to energy the body can use for competition. The ideal pre-competition meal contains about 150 to 300 g of carbohydrates, primarily from complex sources such as whole grains, legumes and vegetables.
Low to Moderate Protein
Protein is essential for athletes and allows them to perform their best. Therefore, many athletes and coaches incorrectly advocate consuming high doses of eggs, red meat and dairy products before an event. It is carbohydrates, not protein, that restore muscle and liver glycogen. While protein is crucial for building and restoring tissue on a long-term basis, high amounts of protein are excreted through urine, providing little additional benefit once you’ve reached your daily needs for this nutrient. This increased production of urine as a result of high protein intake can also cause a greater rate of fluid loss and ultimately lead to dehydration — obviously not an ideal state for competition. Finally, the increased thermic effect of protein causes a rise in metabolism and may be great for weight-loss, but places a greater energy demand on the body and can lead to early fatigue. Limit those hard-boiled eggs on game day!
Like protein, fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and remains in the digestive tract for a greater period of time. Fatty foods can promote a feeling of lethargy that will result in sluggish performance. These foods may also cause digestive discomfort, such as gas and bloating. There’s nothing worse than beginning an endurance event with an upset stomach.
Liquid Meals are Great
Some athletes cast off liquid meals as nutritional gimmicks, or not “real” food. However, such meals are ideal because they generally contain all the macronutrients you need in a small volume, preventing any sort of gastric disruptions. They digest quickly, provide instant energy and have the added benefit of contributing to hydration because of their water base. I recommend these highly.
No Carbs Right Before an Event
If you consume enough carbohydrates in the morning, you don’t need them right before an event. In fact, the increased insulin production after consuming carbs just prior to competition may actually hurt your performance. An increased insulin release right before competition can result in rebound hypoglycemia — a condition that can impair central nervous system function. On a similar note, increased carbohydrate intake can limit the body’s use of fat, resulting in premature fatigue during long-distance, aerobic events. Pay special attention to avoiding fructose, a natural sugar found in fruit that takes longer to digest than other simple sugars. Fructose can also cause gastric distress. Contrary to popular belief, those orange slices you like to eat before running are likely hurting your performance.
Avoid Too Much Fiber
Fiber is a crucial component of a balanced nutrition plan because of its ability to reduce cholesterol and improve digestive regularity. On game day, however, it’s not ideal. Foods high in fiber can cause gas, bloating and general digestive discomfort. Eat a diet high in fiber every other day, but avoid those bran muffins and beans in your pre-competition meal.
Water regulates your body temperature, facilitates digestion and helps lubricate joints. Drink a minimum of eight ounces of water with your pre-competition meal and up to 16 ounces. Consume about four to eight ounces immediately before your event.
A Little Sodium is Good
While high amounts of sodium in the diet are not advisable because of the mineral’s ability to raise blood pressure, consuming sodium with your pre-game meal can limit urine output and facilitate the urge to continue to drink. Both of these factors can help you stay optimally hydrated. While most energy drinks already contain sodium, adding a dash of salt to your bottle of water is an effective way to promote hydration as well.