Pre-exercise meals are very important meals to consider as part of the athlete's preparation towards optimal performance. Not only prior to competition, but also before training sessions. The aim of this meal is to top up the glycogen stores in the muscles and the liver for fuel usage during exercise. Fluid levels should also be raised to ensure adequate hydration. The intestines should feel comfortable during exercise, i.e. not full and not hungry, and the athlete should feel confident and ready for maximal effort.
If consuming a large meal, time is needed for digestion, therefore, it is important to have it 3-4 hours before exercise. If the meal is more of a snack, try 1-2 hours prior. High-carbohydrate, low-fat foods are the best fuel source. Carbohydrate is broken down directly to glucose, the fuel the body will use. Fat will slow digestion, taking longer for the food to be absorbed and leaving you feeling full and uncomfortable.
The amount of fluid consumed is just as important as the food that is eaten. The body does not store water as it does other nutrients and it is vital for performance to be well hydrated prior to training or competition. Make sure athletes drink plenty of fluids during the day, as well as immediately before, during and after activity or an event.
If nerves are a problem for the athlete or they have to eat close to an event, the pre-exercise meal can be taken as a drink, such as Sustagen or a similar liquid meal replacement. This will be digested more quickly and reduce stomach discomfort. This will also help to increase fluid intake.
Prior to an important event, always experiment with the type, amount and timing of meals before training sessions. This will allow the athlete to find meals that really work for their event. If help is needed in planing an eating pattern, guidance is available from a qualified sports dietitian, who can help structure a diet specifically for any athlete.
The key is to be organized and plan ahead. The athlete should be as responsible for their eating pattern as they are for their own success. Good nutrition will make the difference for your event, so do as you do in training and practice, practice, practice.