Eat the Right Food at the Right Time

The trick to completing your workout with energy to spare is to fuel up with the right foods at the right time before the event. The preexercise snack should be predominantly carbohydrate because it empties quickly from the stomach and becomes readily available to be used by the muscles. Eat limited amounts of protein and fat; they take longer to digest. Here are some suggestions for different types of events at different times of the day.

Time: 8:00 a.m. event, such as a road race, swim meet, or stationary cycling class

Meals: Eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner, and drink extra water the day before. On the morning of the event, about 6:00 or 6:30, have a light 200- to 400-calorie meal (depending on your tolerance), such as yogurt and a banana or one or two energy bars, tea or coffee if you like, and extra water. Eat familiar foods. If you want a larger meal, consider getting up to eat between 5:00 and 6:00.

If your body cannot handle any breakfast before early-morning exercise, eat your breakfast before going to bed the night before. The bowl of cereal, bagel with peanut butter, or packets of oatmeal will help boost liver glycogen stores and prevent low blood sugar the next morning.

Time: 10:00 a.m. event, such as a bike race or soccer game

Meals: Eat a high-carbohydrate dinner, and drink extra water the day before. On the morning of the event, eat a familiar breakfast by 7:00 to allow three hours for the food to digest. This meal will prevent the fatigue that results from low blood sugar. Popular choices include oatmeal, a bagel, and yogurt.

Time: 11:00 a.m. lightweight crew race, wrestling match, or other weight-class sport that requires a weigh-in one to two hours beforehand

Meals: Athletes who have crash dieted and dehydrated themselves to reach a specific weight for their sport have only a few hours after weigh-in to prepare for the competition. They need to replace water, carbohydrate, and sodium. An ideal target for a 150-pound (68 kg) depleted athlete would be 700 calories (primarily from carbohydrate), 2,200 milligrams of sodium, and 2 quarts (2 L) of water (Slater et al. 2007). The intake will vary greatly depending on the individual athlete's tolerance for food. Too many wrestlers end up vomiting on the mat after having pigged out after the weigh-in. Food choices might include the following:

  • Chicken noodle soup, bread, and lots of water
  • V8 juice, pretzels, and water
  • Ginger ale or cola, a ham with mustard sandwich, and water
  • Gatorade Endurance plus baked potato chips

2:00 p.m. event, such as a football or lacrosse game

An afternoon game allows time for you to have either a big high-carbohydrate breakfast and a light lunch or a substantial brunch by 10:00, allowing four hours for digestion time. As

Time: Meals:

always, eat a high-carbohydrate dinner the night before, and drink extra fluids the day before and up to noon. Popular brunch choices include French toast, pancakes, or cereal and poached eggs on toast.

Time: 8:00 p.m. event, such as a basketball game

Meals: You can thoroughly digest a hefty high-carbohydrate breakfast and lunch by evening. Plan for dinner, as tolerated, by 5:00, or have a lighter meal between 6:00 and 7:00. Drink extra fluids all day. Two popular dinner choices include pasta with tomato sauce and chicken with a large serving of rice or potato.

Time: All-day event, such as a hard hike,100-mile (160 km) bike ride, or a day of cross-country skiing

Meals: Two days before the event, cut back on your exercise. Take a rest day the day before to allow your muscles the chance to replace depleted glycogen stores. Eat carbohydrate-rich meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (see chapter 6 for information about carbohydrate loading). Drink extra fluids. On the day of the event, eat a tried-and-true breakfast depending on your tolerance. Bagels with a little peanut butter are a favorite.

While exercising, plan to eat carbohydrate-based foods (energy bars, dried fruit, sports drinks, gels) every 60 to 90 minutes to maintain normal blood sugar. If you stop at lunchtime, eat a comfortable-sized meal, but in general try to distribute your calories evenly throughout the day. Foods with fat, such as peanut butter, nuts, and cheese, can offer sustained energy; dietary fat takes a few hours to be converted into fat used for fuel. Drink fluids before you get thirsty; you should need to urinate at least three times throughout the day.

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