Eating and Competing
What you eat on a day-to-day basis is extremely important for training.
Your diet will affect how fast and how well you progress, and how soon you
reach competitive standard. However, once you are ready to compete, you will
have a new concern: your competition diet. Is it important? What should you
eat before your competition? When is the best time to eat? How much should
you eat? Should you be eating during the event? In addition, what can you
eat between heats or matches? A lot of research has been done in this area,
and it is clear that certain dietary approaches can enhance competition
performance. This page gives guidelines about eating and competing that will
help you to perform at your best during competition.
What should you eat in the week before a competition?
During the week before a competition, you should fill up your glycogen
stores so that you begin your competition with a full fuel supply. This is
especially important if you are competing in an endurance sport or competing
in a number of heats over a short period. The way to increase your glycogen
stores is to taper training
during the final week before a competition, and to increase
Eat plenty of complex carbohydrate foods, especially those with a low
glycaemic index to help
boost your glycogen stores. For the last three to four days try to eat a
small meal or snack every two or three hours. Plan each meal around high-
carbohydrate foods, for example baked potatoes, bread or pasta. Your total
energy intake should remain about the same as usual. Eat smaller portions of
high-protein foods such as meat, fish and eggs. Keep fat intake to a minimum
and eat larger amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods (i.e. potatoes, pasta,
cereals, etc.). During these last few days, you should be getting 60 to 70%
of your energy from carbohydrates.
What should you eat before competition?
By the morning of your competition, the previous day's eating will
already have filled your glycogen stores. Your pre-competition meal should
be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, low in protein, low in fiber (i.e. not
too bulky and filling), enjoyable and familiar. Eat complex carbohydrates
as these release energy slowly. Avoid
as these release energy quickly but trigger the release of insulin that can
soon make you feel tired. Suitable types of food include breakfast cereals,
porridge, bread, rolls, toast, fruit juice, fruit, rice cakes, plain
crackers, boiled rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, boiled pasta, dried
fruit, oatmeal biscuits, plain wholemeal biscuits, muffins and carbohydrate
Must you eat a pre-competition meal?
Many competitors feel nervous on the day of the competition and do not
want to eat. However, it is not a good idea to avoid having a
pre-competition meal. Your liver glycogen stores will be low and could
adversely affect your performance in the last stages if you are competing in
an endurance event (or in one, that lasts over 1.5 hours). The liver can
only store enough glycogen to last 12 hours, so if you eat nothing after the
previous day's evening meal your liver glycogen stores will be considerably
depleted. If you really do not feel like eating, try to have a liquid meal
such as a carbohydrate drink, some fruit juice or commercial
Should you eat just before the competition?
Studies have shown that eating a small amount (about 50gms) of
fast-absorbing carbohydrate just before exercise helps to delay fatigue and
improve endurance. Carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index are absorbed
relatively quickly into the bloodstream and cause a rapid rise in
blood-sugar levels. If you start exercising within about five minutes, an
increase in insulin will be prevented and your blood-sugar levels will
remain slightly raised for longer. Some people are more sensitive to
blood-sugar fluctuations than others are, so you may find that this
last-minute snack does not suit you at all.
Should you eat or drink during a competition?
If you are competing for more than an hour, you may find that taking
extra carbohydrate during the event helps to delay fatigue and maintain
exercise intensity, particularly during the later stages. If you take small
amounts of carbohydrate at regular intervals during the competition, blood-
sugar levels will be boosted and glycogen stores will not be depleted so
rapidly. If you are competing in a tournament or match which involves
intermittent, high- and low-intensity activities, and which lasts for over
an hour, try to have some form of carbohydrate during the breaks.
Make sure you are well hydrated before the competition having your last
drink about 15 to 20 minutes before the start. Drink at regular intervals
(150 to 300ml), ideally every 15 minutes or whenever you have a break during
competition. Do not wait until you feel thirsty, you will already be
dehydrated. Water is fine or you may prefer to use a commercial carbohydrate
drink as this will also refuel your glycogen stores.
What should you eat after competition?
Following training & competition, an athlete's glycogen stores are
depleted. In order to replenish them the athlete needs to consider the speed
at which carbohydrate is converted into blood glucose and transported to the
muscles. The rapid replenishment of glycogen stores is important for the
track athlete who has a number of races in a meeting. The rise in blood
glucose levels is indicated by foods
Glycaemic Index (GI) and
the faster and higher the blood glucose rises the higher the GI.
Studies have shown that consuming high GI carbohydrates, approximately
2g/kg of body weight, and 40g of protein within 2 hours after exercise
speeds up the replenishment of glycogen stores and therefore speeds up
recovery time. It appears that the muscles are more receptive to and
retaining carbohydrate during the two hours after exercise.