Food choices for the run-in to competition

Posted on July 22, 2021 by

Accumulating fuel stores to be used in competition does not happen in just one meal. Specific to the workload you have ahead of you, a plan of regular meals and snacks spaced out over the days prior to competition should be followed rather than one large meal the night before competition as the increased load on digestion may interfere with sleeping patterns.

Increasing hydration through regular sipping on fluid and water in the lead up to competition is essential, even if you don’t feel thirsty. A good test to judge if you are hydrated is urine colour; aim to have urine a light colour in the morning after waking and to run almost clear before bed.


What should I eat when preparing?

Food choices leading into competition should be higher in carbohydrates, contain some protein and should be low in fat, especially saturated fats as these can be heavy and hard to digest. Further to this, reducing fat will make an energy allowance for the additional carbohydrate which will be consumed.

Don’t try any unfamiliar or unusual foods around competition day; eat food you would usually eat around training so you know that food sits well in your stomach when active.


When should I eat?

Start the loading process around 24 hours before competition begins. Determine the time competition starts then work backwards from this time to plan when and what meals should be consumed. eg; if competition starts at 2pm start loading at lunch the day before; if it’s at 8am start loading at breakfast the day before and aim to eat every 2-3 hours.


Meal suggestions around competition


– Moderate to low fibre cereal (Special K, Weet-bix, oats, etc) with low fat milk and fruit OR

Thick wholemeal toast with poached eggs and a piece of fruit or glass of juice


– Sandwiches on wholemeal or grain bread, lean meat or tuna and some salad but limit fatty meats, spreads like butter or heavy main meals  OR

– Pasta with lean meat and veges in a tomato sauce


– Pasta dish with lean meat, a low fat sauce and some vegetables and crusty bread to serve OR

– Lean meat stir fry with steamed rice or noodles


– high carb options, Low fat muffin, scone or fruit bread

*this indicates the type of foods to consume, amounts will vary


Competition Day

On the morning of competition, it is important to have a good breakfast; if competition starts early it may mean getting up a little earlier to fit in a substantial meal so it has time to digest.

24 hours out from competition
Start to increase the frequency and amount of carb snacks at each meal rather than one big carb meal the night before. Reduce portions or prot/fats to make room for extra carbs

2-4 hours before competition
Aim to have your last main meal so food has time to digest and the fuel is in your blood where it is most accessible. This meal should be as indicated above so it is healthy, balanced and fresh that way you won’t feel weighed down.

1 to 2 hours before competition
Have a small snack high in carbohydrates, low in fat and low in fibre to reduce potential stomach discomfort and so food is digested quickly. This will top or between short breaks up energy stores and stop you feeling hungry, but not feel too full. This could be a banana or a jam/honey/vegemite sandwich on white bread.

Less than 1 hour before competition
Sip on water, or alternate between water and sports drinks if going into a high intensity or long duration event.

Refueling for long or continuous competition

If competition has a long duration, or is conducted as regular efforts or heats, the body cannot store enough good energy to have easily accessible fuel for peak performance throughout the whole competition. Regular small carb snacks throughout the competition can top up energy levels between efforts or heats for a faster recovery rate and less overall muscle soreness without making to feel too full. Liquid meals or supplements including a yoghurt tube, flavoured milk popper, sports drinks or gels may be suitable to consume if food is not appropriate. Food choices that are easy to consume include yoghurt or creamed rice; crackers, honey or jam sandwiches or bananas. For specific events its best to have a nutrition and fueling plan prepared by a sports dietitian.

Read more articles on nutrition from the NSW Institute of Sport Dietitian


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