Don’t erase months of training because of a poor pregame meal. Eat healthily and be prepared with these pieces of advice.
Timing, food choice, and portion size are all keys in planning your final meal(s) before competition. While some athletes can stomach just about anything, most will battle pregame jitters. Knowing that, here are some general principles for fueling your body, without disrupting your stomach, when it’s time to perform.
This might sound crazy, but on game day it usually takes your body extra time to digest meals. Thus, you should plan to eat your final, full, pre-game meal about 4 hours prior to competition. This doesn’t mean you can’t continue to snack lightly, but other than liquids, you should try to stop all food intake 60-90 min prior to competing.
If you have any issues with dairy or lactose intolerance, pre-game isn’t the time to chance it or experiment, so avoid dairy products in general. Same goes for greasy and fried foods, as they can slow down digestion and upset an already nervous stomach. Sweet/sugary foods are also best left until after competition. Not only can they upset your stomach, but they can also set you up for an energy crash right before your game, which is precisely what you’re looking to avoid.
I know you’ve probably heard this a billion times, but please, please, PLEASE, don’t forget the importance of water. Keep a bottle with you at all times and keep sipping throughout meals, warm-ups, and competition if possible. Among other things, being dehydrated can interfere with the digestion process and inhibit muscle functioning.
Having addressed what to avoid, let’s look at what you should be eating if you’re trying to perform at your best? When deciding what to eat, you’ll want to focus on eating some carbohydrates for fuel, while mixing in a little protein and fat to keep you from feeling hungry during the game. Knowing that, here are some examples of ideal pregame meals that should be viable options whether you’re cooking at home, or eating on the road. Most of these options should be relatively easy to find or make, so please, leave those excuses at the door:
1. Oatmeal with banana slices and toast with peanut butter & honey
2. Egg sandwich on wheat bread and an apple
3. Cheerios with skim milk and a fresh fruit salad
4. Scrambled eggs with ham on an English muffin and a grapefruit half
5. Waffle with fresh berries and yogurt
6. Turkey sandwich on wheat bread and grapes
7. Grilled chicken salad and breadsticks
Please note the combination of lean protein, fats and complex carbs in the options above (although simple carbs like fruit may be best in that 60-90 min pregame slot). Additional take-along snack ideas include granola bars and low sugar energy bars, nuts, apples, bananas, ½ bagel with peanut butter, string cheese with crackers.
Obviously different sporting events have different competition formats, and it’s easier to plan for one match, game, or race than it is to plan for multiple games, events etc in one day. That said, for morning events, try to get up early enough to have a light meal. If you have an afternoon competition, definitely have breakfast, and maybe even a light lunch or snack as well. For evening games aim for breakfast, plus lunch, a snack, or both. If you have repeated contests throughout the day or weekend, keep some snacks (like those mentioned above) and water with you.
As important, or more importantly, don’t forget to refuel your body with a quality postgame meal as it will aid in recovering from the physical, and emotional, stress of game day.
Listen, I know how easy it is to skip meals, or just completely forget about them, even on game day. But with a little bit of meal planning, and a little bit of carb loading, your healthy pre-game meals might give you the extra edge you need to play at your absolute best.