Food provides the fuel that our bodies need for proper functioning. College athletes need to pay special attention to what foods they choose because of their increased energy needs. The timing and food choices of meals and snacks have the ability to turn an average workout or competition into an outstanding one. We store energy for exercise in our muscles in the form of glycogen. Ensuring adequate glycogen stores will help athletes have enough energy to meet their needs during exercise and competition.
Before training and competition
Athletes need fuel before training and competition to provide energy to meet the demands of their sport. Many athletes are scared of eating pre-exercise and pre-competition because of gastric distresses. It is important to know what foods sit well in your stomach. You can experiment with foods before an easier workout and see how your digestive system reacts. It is even possible to train your digestive tract to better tolerate foods before exercise by gradually increasing the amount of food you eat before a workout, so that your stomach can eventually tolerate 200-300 calories before exercise (Hatch, Mark and Moor).
Guidelines for pre-workout and competition foods
1. Consume high-carbohydrate meals on a regular basis to ensure adequate glycogen stores in your muscles
2. Most high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods sit well in the digestive tract;
3. Avoid high-fat protein (i.e. egg yolks, cheese, breakfast meats, hamburgers, hot dogs, and fried foods)
4. Monitor super-sugary foods (i.e. candy, pop, and energy gels). Although these foods provide an immediate energy boost, rebound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may occur, causing fatigue and light-headedness, taking away from the success of the workout/competition
5. Try liquid meal substitutes (i.e. Boost and Ensure) if your stomach is unable to handle solid foods pre-exercise and competition. Make sure you avoid high-fiber versions to prevent gastric discomfort;
6. Avoid high-fiber foods (unless you are used to a high-fiber diet) as fiber can cause intestinal discomfort;
7. Don’t try any new foods the day before a competition. You don’t know how your digestive system will react and negative consequences such as cramping, intestinal discomfort, and diarrhea can occur;
8. Stay well hydrated
Easy-to-digest foods for before workouts and competitions include
· Bananas · Dry cereal (watch sugar content) · Dried fruit · Peanut butter · Crackers · Granola bars · Oatmeal
When should I eat before training and competition?
Timing your pre-exercise meals and snacks can help you get the most out of your training sessions. College athletics often include training sessions at inconvenient times of the day, multiple times per day. Because of this, it is important to plan ahead, know what foods work for you, and allow adequate time in which to eat these foods. For those athletes who train and compete in the early morning, breakfast may not sound appealing.
However, it is important to consume some sort of fuel before activity. In this case, eating a larger dinner the night before will help ensure adequate glycogen stores and consuming a small snack or meal such as a piece of toast with jam, an energy bar, or a banana will help the body stay fueled during early morning exercise.