Deciding what to eat before a big event can be challenging. It’s a balancing act between finding something that is appetizing with something that won’t cause stomach upset. Then there is the issue of WHEN to eat it.
Many competitions and events take place in the morning when most people are coming off several hours of fasting through the night. This timing of a morning event makes it especially important to consume an adequate amount of carbohydrate and water the day before the event. Finding something to eat early in the morning can be very challenging. Ideally, athletes want to consume a carbohydrate rich breakfast 1-4 hours before the event. That may leave them needing to set the alarm clock very early. For afternoon competition, breakfast becomes the most important meal. It too should be carbohydrate rich. Later afternoon events leave lunch as the most important meal of the day.
Regardless of the time of the event, the precompetition meal should be a food or liquid that is appetizing, easily digested, and “goes over” well if the person is especially nervous or stressed about the upcoming event. That means each athlete is going to have to find what works for them. Generally on competition days it’s best to stay away from fat and protein. They digest slower and stay in the digestive tract longer than carbohydrate. Also, protein requires extra water to break down and competitors don’t want to be using water those purposes. Fiber is something to avoid on competition days too. Ideally, the precompetition meal should have 150-300 grams of carbohydrate. (This may vary slightly depending on the sport and length of the event).
It goes without saying that it’s best to experiment with meal choices and meal timing well before competitions or events. The timeframe range of 1-4 hours should be experimented with too in order to determine what is the ideal timing within the range. Some possible options to try as precompetition meals can be found on this handout developed by Team Unify.
Precompetition meals are vital to performance, but so is overall nutrition. If athletes and competitors are not eating well throughout their training plan then a precompetition meal isn’t going to make up for it. Eating properly for performance should be done all of the time, not just in the hours leading up to an event.