Many student athletes skip meals before they train or work out, especially if the workout happens to be in the early morning. Skipping meals or not eating before practice can impair athletic performance, and not eating after a practice or competition leaves the athlete running on empty.
Jacqueline Berning, sports nutritionist for the Denver Broncos, explains how you can help your athlete make nutrition a priority before, during and after exercise.
The Pre-exercise Meal
The pre-event meal serves two purposes. First, it keeps athletes from feeling hungry and sluggish before and during the game. Second, it helps to maintain optimal levels of energy (blood glucose) for the exercising muscles during training and competition.
Eating before exercise can be challenging for athletes. While they need fuel to perform, they should not exercise on a full stomach. Food that remains in the stomach during training or competition may cause indigestion, nausea and possibly vomiting. A good recommendation is to eat a meal two to four hours before exercise. If an athlete is nervous about his or her performance, the digestive process may take even longer.
The ideal pre-exercise meal should be primarily carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat. Carbohydrates are digested rapidly. Protein and fat take longer to digest. Pre-exercise meals high in fat (like a lot of options at school and fast-food restaurants) can cause stomach upset, gas and bloating.
Hydration During Exercise
The importance of nutrition does not stop with the pre-exercise meal. During practice or competition, remember to drink sports drinks to avoid dehydration and provide energy for working muscles.
The Post-exercise Meal
Eating for peak performance also includes making wise food choices post-exercise. The right post-game meal replenishes athletes' muscles for the event or competition around the corner. In fact, muscles are most receptive to recovery during the first 30 minutes after competition. Athletes should follow these tips:
• To completely restore muscle energy, eat within 30 minutes after exercise and then eat small meals at two hours and again at four hours.
• Choose high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein foods.
• If you can't take solid foods 30 minutes after exercise or they are not available, try having G Series 03 Recover, two to four cups of a sports drink or an energy bar. Eat more solid foods two and four hours later.
• Be sure to hydrate after a workout or game. Weigh yourself and drink three cups of fluid for each pound lost during the competition.
Get in the Habit: Know WHAT to Eat and WHEN to Eat It
Send your athlete to practice or to the game with a backpack full of healthy snacks to prevent him or her from exercising on empty. The same kind of high-carbohydrate, power-packed foods are recommended for both before and after an event or competition.
Four or more hours before and four hours after:
• Grilled chicken/Rice/Fruit
• Turkey sandwich/Raw carrots
• Spaghetti with meat sauce
• String cheese/Grapes/Crackers
• Energy bar/Sports drinks such as Gatorade 02 Perform
Two to three hours before and two hours after:
• Cereal/Low-fat milk
• Fresh fruit
• Bagel with peanut butter
• Energy bar
• Sports drink/Gatorade 02 Perform
One hour or less before and 30 minutes after
• G Series 01 Prime (before)
• G Series 03 Recover (after)
• Energy bar
• Sports drink
• Grilled chicken/rice/fruit