Knowing what to eat and when to eat for sports can seem like a science. Don’t let all the information out there leave you frazzled and hungry. For the everyday athlete a little preparation can make it very simple!
The phrase “you are what you eat” is true. Nutrition can play a key role in the final minutes of a game or race. Over time the body becomes fatigued during exercise. In order for muscles to contract properly water, carbohydrates and sodium are needed. Maintaining a healthy diet, eating high-carbohydrate meals leading up to competition, maintaining proper fuel throughout performance and planning for recovery nourishment is essential.
What does this all mean? Studies recommend that a light, high-carbohydrate meal be consumed 3-hours before the event. This can include cereal with fruit, pasta, sandwiches or fruit salad with yogurt. One hour before the event consume a high-carbohydrate snack like fruit, yogurt, cereal bars or a sports drink. During the event keep hydrated and consume carbohydrates such as water combined with energy gels, a sports drink depending on the intensity and duration of your exertion. If you are concerned with stomach cramps or gastrointestinal upset (like diarrhea) go for a liquid meal like a fruit smoothie or orange juice.
Finally, don’t forget recovery. It is at this time the body needs fuel to restore what it has lost in order to repair muscles and prevent injury and muscle soreness. Studies show that food consumed within 30 minutes of exercising will have a significant effect on glycogen stores and muscle recovery. A snack that contains carbohydrates (restores muscle glycogen) and protein (repairs damaged muscle fibres) is suggested. This could be as easy as a peanut-butter/jam sandwich or 500ml of chocolate milk. Check out the table below for some easy suggestions to include in your nutritional planning.
|3 Hours Before||1 Hour Before||During||Recovery|
|Cereal with fruit||Yogurt||Water||Peanut Butter/Jam Sandwich|
|Waffles with fruit and syrup||Banana||Sports Drink||Chocolate Milk|
|Pasta with tomato sauce||Oatmeal||Energy Gels||Orange Juice|
|Fruit salad with yogurt||Cereal Bar||Cut Up Energy Bar||Cereal with Milk|
|Fruit Smoothie||Sports Drink||Energy Bar|
The type and amount of food and liquid consumed depends on the activity the athlete has just completed, and when the next training session will be. If you have just finished an endurance event, then try to drink a smoothie, sport drink, chocolate milk, or water. Each of these drinks provides protein and/or liquid to the body which helps prevent muscle damage.
Again remember to stay hydrated! Water is an excellent choice to replace fluids especially in low intensity and short duration sports. With prolonged bouts of exercise, sports drinks can be used to replace electrolytes such as sodium or potassium.
When plotting your nutritional plan, it’s important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every athlete and sport is going to require individual tweaks to find a nutrition plan that works best for them. If you want to ensure that you get the most of your recovery nutrition, first try consulting a registered dietitian or sport trainer.
Burke, L.M. Nutrition for the Beautiful Game. International Journal of Sport Nutrition. 16(3) 2006 pp. 332-336.
Clark, N. Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 3rd Ed. Human Kinetics: Champlain, Ill. 2003.
Dieticians of Canada. What should I eat and drink before, during and after endurance exercise? Dieticians of Canada. November 2013
Eat Right Ontario. Sports Nutrition: Facts on Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein. Retrieved September 2016.
Meeroff, J.C., Healthy eating, better results. Soccer Journal. Nov/Dec 2006, pp. 47-50.
Williams, C. and L. Serratosa. Nutrition on match day. Journal of Sports Sciences. 24(7) July 2006, pp. 687-697.