Most athletes can recall an event where the food eaten a few hours before the competition led to unpleasant side effects. When focus and athletic ability make all the difference in success during a competition, athletes want to avoid the gurgling stomach or mid-event energy slumps at all costs. Making smart dietary choices not only prevent these side effects but can increase athletic performance. So, what are the worst foods to eat before a competition?
An athlete should avoid trying new foods or eating routines hours before a competition. This practice allows an athlete to avoid food known to cause unpleasant symptoms, an upset stomach, and prevents unintended consumption of food triggers. An athlete will want to limit or avoid the following foods before a competition.
- High fat foods
- Fiber rich foods
- Foods high in sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
- Any alcohol (it’s illegal for teenagers and harms performance)
- Spicy foods (per tolerance)
- Any other known food triggers (dairy, too much fiber, etc.)
Limiting these foods will support successful performance in a competition. However, what foods to limit only account for a small part of pre-competition nutrition. Continue to read for more information regarding foods to avoid and to include prior to an athletic event.
What are the Worst Foods to Eat Pre-Competition?
Eating foods that take longer to digest cause gastrointestinal distress. The body diverts blood from the digestive system to assist with athletic performance. This means poor digestion, an upset stomach and other digestion issues. Too much fat, protein and fiber will create this effect.
High fat– Fried food, greasy pizza, fatty cuts of meat, ice-cream, cake, cookies, chips, etc.
High fiber– Beans, vegetables (especially cruciferous such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), certain fruits with skin, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.
High protein– Some protein with pre-event meals and snacks can actually provide benefit, but too much protein will create issues. It might be best to avoid the protein supplement on this occasion.
Non-nutritive sweeteners– These sweet additives lack usable energy due to the body’s inability to effectively break them down. While many enjoy the lack of calories, this characteristic means an athlete does not receive needed energy and may experience GI distress such as bloating or diarrhea due to the poor digestion of these components.
Non-nutritive sweeteners include stevia, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Athletes should be cautious of foods or beverages with “sugar-free” or “light” claims as these foods often use non-nutritive sweeteners.
Spicy foods– These foods can trigger heartburn and cause digestive issues. An athlete should practice caution with these foods.
The body releases insulin when sugars enter the body. This insulin allows sugar to enter the cells from the bloodstream for energy use. Eating foods high in sugar can lead to a rapid blood sugar rise and then crash with this insulin release. While an athlete may need a rapid sugar release during or right before an event, eating high sugar foods in the hours prior to a competition can lead to an energy crash.
High sugar foods– Candy, doughnuts, some granola bars, energy drinks, soda, cookies, cake, and other desserts all contain high amounts of sugar. An athlete should save these treats for special occasions on another day.
Finally, caffeine and certain supplements can affect the digestive system of an athlete. A teenage athlete should limit use of these products on the day of the competition, especially if new.
Again, athletes will need to find what works best for their unique needs and tolerances.
Are Eggs a Good Pre-Game Meal?
The iconic scene of Rocky Balboa drinking a raw egg shake during an intense training scene may cause teenagers to question whether they should incorporate eggs into their pre-game meal. It seemed to work for Rocky?
Eggs offer a condensed source of quality protein, healthy fats and an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. They actually make a perfect addition to a high carbohydrate meal or snack before an athletic event.
However, some important guidelines make eggs a beneficial addition rather than a hinderance to performance.
First, athletes should always avoid consuming raw eggs. Failing to cook eggs may reduce protein and biotin absorption. More importantly, consuming raw eggs increases the risk of a foodborne illness.
Second, pre-competition meals need more than just eggs. Eggs offer protein, but none of the energy producing nutrient, carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy and should make up most of the pre-game meal or snack, combined with a moderate amount of protein.
Finally, athletes will want to use cooking methods that do not include large additions of fat as fat can cause an upset stomach.
The following list offers some good egg combinations to help fuel an athletic event.
- Egg on toast
- Egg burrito
- Egg with rice
- Boiled egg with crackers
- Use eggs to boost protein of oatmeal (mix in egg before cooking)
- Egg and potato casserole
Can you Drink Pedialyte Before Competition?
The importance of adequate hydration prior to competing cannot be overstated. Performing in a dehydrated state will significantly decrease an athlete’s capabilities. Athletes may wonder if certain beverages such as Pedialyte will offer hydration benefits before an athletic event.
Pedialyte is a beverage containing electrolytes and some carbohydrate for rehydration purposes. Usually this drink treats dehydration resulting from illnesses with diarrhea and vomiting. The lower carbohydrate and the common use of non-nutritive sweeteners in these drinks make them a better option for rehydration after a competition rather than before.
In fact, water makes the best pre-game beverage. Athletes perform well with drinking just water in shorter competitions. However, athletes may want to consume sports drinks in events lasting longer than 60 minutes or in extreme temperatures. These conditions lead to a higher loss of electrolytes and fluids through sweating and create the need for glucose replenishment.
In these conditions, a sports drink may still offer more benefit than Pedialyte. Sports drinks contain more carbohydrate for energy restoration during and after an athletic event. Pedialyte can replace electrolytes but is better suited for treating dehydration after an illness, rather than a competition.
Should an Athlete Avoid Dairy Before a Competition?
Athletes often hear conflicting information regarding dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt). Does it cause inflammation, increase mucus production and cause gut distress? Or does it assist in muscle growth, increase bone strength and make an effective sports drink?
Dairy products offer many important nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin A, B12, potassium and vitamin D. These nutrients support bone and muscle growth. Additionally, the high-quality protein and carbohydrate mix along with the other nutrients and electrolytes make milk a great sports and recovery drink.
Research currently does not support the claim of increased inflammation and mucus from dairy intake in healthy individuals. However, those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance can experience adverse reactions that affect performance. Athletes with these conditions should avoid dairy products prior to a competition.
In summary, choosing to consume dairy products before a competition depends on individual preferences and conditions. Those who enjoy dairy without negative reactions will find that dairy products make easy protein and carbohydrate additions to pre-competition meals and snacks.
Best Tips for Fueling Pre-Workout
With knowledge of what foods to avoid, an athlete will also want to know what should be included in meals and snacks before a competition.
An athlete will want to start drinking fluids consistently long before game day. Adequate hydration prior to an event will decrease likelihood of dehydration, improve performance and make it less likely that an athlete will create electrolyte imbalances by drinking too much all at once.
Water, milk and other unsweetened beverages make the best options for good hydration before an event. An athlete should drink 16 ounces (oz) about 2 hours before and an additional 8 oz. about fifteen minutes prior to the competition.
During a competition, an athlete uses quite a bit of energy. This energy mostly comes from carbohydrate stores. Failing to include carbohydrates in the meals and snacks leading up to an event will lead to early fatigue.
As the main source of energy, meals and snacks should emphasize this nutrient over fat and protein. Foods higher in carbohydrates include grains, fruit, starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, peas), legumes, milk and yogurt.
Many teenagers come to associate protein with muscle building. This nutrient properly deserves focus throughout the day and after athletic events for body tissue repair and growth. However, large consumption of protein immediately prior to an event can slow digestion and cause stomach distress. Athletes should combine moderate protein amounts with a higher carbohydrate load in the hours preceding a competition.
Foods with protein include meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes and dairy products. The following list offers some examples of good carbohydrate/protein combinations.
Yogurt with granola and fruit
Oatmeal with nut butter
Chicken wrap with crackers
Tilapia with rice
Pulled pork sandwich with oven fries
Check out this post for great snack ideas
Easy to Digest Foods
With the appropriate carbohydrate/protein mix, athletes should also try to choose easy to digest foods. These types of foods will not contain high amounts of fiber or fat. Athletes may also find particular types of foods sit better in their stomach than other foods. For this reason, athletes should stick to consuming familiar foods in the hours before a competition.
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