Pre-Competition Meals

Author: Lisa Krayer

The race season is in full gear.  If you haven’t thought much about what to eat before your race or simply aren’t sure what the guidelines are, here’s some food for thought (pun intended).

The goals of pre-competition meals are to:

  • Maintain normal blood sugar levels to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Settle the stomach by absorbing some of the gastric juices
  • Top off our muscle energy stores
  • Prevent hunger

Timing is everything.

In general you should allow 3-4 hours for a large meal to digest; 2-3 hours for a smaller meal, 1-2 hours for a liquid meal and 0-1 hour for a small snack.

General eating guidelines 3 to 4 hours before your event:

  • Choose a meal high in carbohydrates (200-300g) and lean protein, low in fiber and fat.
  • Consume 17oz  to 20oz of water or sports drink or 2 mL/lb to 3 mL/lb.

Here’s some examples provided by the SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition) registered dietitians:

3–4 Hours Before Exercise

  • Peanut butter & honey on toast + instant breakfast drink
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie + low-fat granola
  • Oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds + skim milk + banana
  • Low-fat cottage cheese + apple butter + crackers + fresh grapes
  • Lean hamburger on bun with lettuce & tomato + side salad + yogurt-fruit parfait
  • Turkey and Swiss sandwich + fruit + sports drink
  • Low-fat tuna melt sandwich + fruit cup + fat-free yogurt

30–60 Minutes Before Exercise

  • Sports drink or water
  • Sports gel, sport beans or gummies, sports bar
  • Piece of fruit or jam sandwich

General eating guidelines 30 minutes to 1 hour before your event:

  • Choose a light snack high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, low in fat and fiber
  • Consume 5 to 10 oz of water or sports drink

If you find it difficult before a race due to nerves, there are a couple of options:

  • Make sure you fuel up the night before on plenty of carbohydrates
  • A liquid meal replacement (such as a smoothie) may work better than whole foods

Points to consider:

  • There isn’t any one pre-event meal that will compensate for a poor training diet. Therefore, you should eat a high carbohydrate diet every day to prevent chronic energy depletion.
  • Keep a journal that includes what you ate and what time you ate before competing.  This can be a helpful tool to help you learn how you should individualize your timing and meal composition. Everyone has different preferences and there is no single “magic food” or “magic meal” that will ensure top performance.
  • Training rides are a great way to experiment with new food items and combinations if you’re still trying to figure out what works best.  Just remember to stick to familiar foods on race day!

What you eat on race day is an important piece of the puzzle that can make for a great race, but remember that eating right on race day isn’t going to make up for a poor diet the rest of the week.  Make good food choices everyday to enjoy a strong, successful season.

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