Fueling the Athlete


Athletics are becoming increasingly competitive, and more and more emphasis is being placed on performance. To reach your highest potential, all of your body systems must be perfectly tuned. Nothing is more important to your well-being and ability to perform than good nutrition. Without the right foods, even physical conditioning and expert coaching aren't enough to push you to your best.

The energy used for muscular activity is provided mainly by the carbohydrates and fats in our diet. Proteins, though important staples, are not an energy source. They serve as the building blocks for growth & repair of cells. Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for your body during strenuous exercise. They are broken down & stored in the muscles & liver as Glycogen.


Pre-Game Strategies: 

The glycogen stores you have available right before an event are the result of how you've eaten and exercised for the past several days. Once glycogen stores are exhausted, it takes at least 2 days to fully restore them. So don't look to the pregame meal to provide the bulk of your energy for the game, start preparing at least two days before, or better yet, make healthy choices every day! Here are some tips to help keep glycogen reserves up:

  • Start each day with a good breakfast. Cold cereal, milk, toast, fruit (or juice) makes an easy meal providing plenty of starch. 
  • Select meals that contain foods from all 5 food groups. Our bodies use nutrients more efficiently when they are consumed together.
  • Use snacks as another opportunity to power up with quality carbohydrates - But remember to make HEALTHY choices! 
  • Give carbohydrates extra emphasis at least 2 days before the game.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, even at mealtimes, to prevent dehydration.

Your Pre-Game Meal: 

What you eat the day of the event can affect your level of performance greatly. Here are some guidelines to help you along:

  • Allow enough time for proper digestion. Eat the pregame meal at least 3 hours before the event.
  • Choose a meal that's high in starch like whole grain breads, cereals, & pasta. Starch is easy to digest and helps steady the levels of blood sugar. 
  • Consume only moderate amounts of protein, such as lean meat, chicken, & eggs. Protein foods take longer to digest than starch. A high-protein meal could lead to increased urine production, which can add to dehydration. 
  • Limit fats and oils as in fried foods. They take too long to digest.
  • Restrict sugary foods. Sweets can cause rapid energy swings in blood sugar levels and result in less energy.  
  • Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the body to increase urine output, which can contribute to dehydration problems and cramping.
  • Watch out for foods that produce gas. Be aware of the foods that cause you problems and avoid them before an event. (some raw veggies, fruits or beans)

Tracee Sidell  C.N.C., C.S.N.C. Certified Sports Nutrition Counselor