Nutrition for Training and Competition
What should you be eating before your game?
The main nutrition goals pre-exercise are for fueling the body, so it is important to have some carbohydrate foods to make sure that you're getting the right amount of fuel for your exercise session. The amount that you eat is going to be dependent on the type of session that you're doing. If it's a high aerobic session then your needs for carbohydrates are going to be higher than if it's a gym-based session or an anaerobic-type workout.
- Never compete without eating something beforehand, even if your event is first thing in the morning.
- Take along snacks to the event - do not reply on food at the venue as this is often not suitable.
- Most important of all, you should trial your pre-competition eating at training sessions to ensure that you are comfortable with the routine and that it does what you are aiming to do.
Fluid and hydration are always really important too, and I often say to people if you struggle to get fluid in during an exercise session then it's really important to pre-hydrate and just gets your body prepped with a bit more fluids pre-exercise.
If you get nervous before exercise, which is an issue for some people, then liquid carbohydrates are the way to go. With liquid carbohydrates you satisfy both of the goals of ingesting fluid and carbohydrate. Examples are having a milk-based drink or a sports drink.
When should I eat before a game?
For a large meal I'd be waiting three to four hours for a substantial meal to digest, because it takes at least a couple of hours for the food to be digested. Then you're not feeling too full and uncomfortable during exercise.
For a small meal, you should wait for one to two hours, and then for smaller things like liquids or a piece of fruit or banana or something small, you could easily eat it within half an hour before exercise.
There are inter-individual differences, everybody tolerates food differently. I have some athletes who can eat immediately before a game or an exercise session and don't have any problems at all, and others who just cannot stomach much food at all. So I guess I'll work with those athletes a bit more closely to get the right nutrition in pre-exercise.
To eat or not to eat before exercise?
My advice for athletes is to have something small before exercise. It's better to have something small than nothing at all, though it does depend on the goal of your training session. If you're aiming to have a performance-based session and you want to get a lot out of that session it's definitely worthwhile eating something beforehand.
However, if you're trying to lose some body fat, you can do your session in a fasted state, then you'll actually be burning a lot more body fat than you would if you had eaten beforehand, because whether you have eaten changes the fuel that you use during that session.
So definitely eating something is better than nothing, and something small within half an hour.
This is an edited transcript of part of an interview with Clare Wood, the Topend Sports' dietitian, conducted in 2018 by the WA Government's Department of Sports and Recreation as part of their 'Ask an Expert' series. The interview covers areas of what and when you should eat before a game, plus a discussion of energy drinks and supplements for athletes.