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Appropriate nutrition guidelines for game day

By Nancy Clark

To determine the right pretraining or precompetition snack or meal for your body, experiment with the following guidelines:

  • On a daily basis eat adequate high-carbohydrate meals to fuel and refuel your muscles so they’ll be ready for action. Snacks eaten within an hour before exercise primarily keep you from feeling hungry and maintain your blood sugar; they don’t significantly replenish muscle glycogen stores.
  • If you will be exercising for less than an hour, simply snack on any tried-and-true foods that digest easily and settle comfortably. Toast, English muffins, a banana, crackers, and granola bars are a few of the most popular high-carbohydrate, low-fat preexercise choices.
  • If you will be exercising for more than 60 minutes and will be unable to consume calories during that time, be sure to eat well the day before. Choose a preexercise snack with a little protein and fat for sustained energy, such as a poached egg on toast, a bagel with peanut butter, or oatmeal made with low-fat milk.
  • Limit high-fat sources of protein such as cheese omelets, hamburgers, and fried chicken because they take longer to empty from the stomach. Cheeseburgers with French fries, large ice cream cones, and pancakes glistening with butter have been known to contribute to sluggishness, if not to nausea. Note that small servings of lean protein-rich foods (turkey, eggs, low-fat milk), however, can settle well and keep you from feeling hungry.
  • Be cautious with sugary foods such as soft drinks, jelly beans, gels, and even lots of maple syrup or sports drinks. Although most athletes perform well after a preexercise sugar fix, a few may experience symptoms of rebound hypoglycemia such as light-headedness and fatigue.
  • Allow adequate time for digestion. Remember that high-calorie meals take longer to leave the stomach than do hearty, lighter snacks. The general rule is to allow three to four hours for a large meal to digest, two to three hours for a smaller meal, one to two hours for a blended or liquid meal, and less than an hour for a small snack, according to your own tolerance.
  • Allow more digestion time before intense exercise than before low-level activity. Remember, your muscles require more blood during intense exercise than they do at rest, so your stomach may not get the normal blood flow needed for the digestion process. Any food in the stomach jostles along for the ride and may feel uncomfortable or be regurgitated.
  • If you have a finicky stomach, experiment with liquid meal replacements to see whether they offer you any advantage. Liquid foods tend to leave the stomach faster than solid foods do. In one research study, a 450-calorie meal of steak, peas, and buttered bread remained in the stomach for six hours. A liquefied version of the same meal emptied from the stomach two hours earlier (Brouns, Saris, and Rehrer 1987). Before converting to a liquid preevent meal, be it a homemade blenderized meal or a can of a commercial meal replacement such as Boost or Ensure, experiment during training to determine if this new food works well for you.

Excerpt from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Fourth Edition.

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