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Pre-Game Meals: The Basics

Many parents are confused about what their child should eat in terms of a pre-game meal. 

A pre-game meal is important because:
  • Although a meal eaten before exercise doesn't provide immediate energy, it can provide energy when your child exercises for longer than an hour.
  • The carbohydrate in the meal raises blood glucose levels to provide energy for working muscles.
  • The food also keeps your child from feeling hungry and weak, which can hurt athletic performance.

When eating before training or competition, follow these guidelines:

When To Eat

1 to 4 hours before training or competition:

  • Allows enough time for food to empty the stomach.
  • Exercising with a nearly full stomach can cause indigestion, nausea, and vomiting

How Much

Adjust the size of the meal depending on timing: reduce the carbohydrate and calorie content of the meal the closer it is consumed to exercise:

  • 4 hours before exercise: a large meal (700 to 800 calories)
  • 1 hour before exercise: a small meal (300 to 400 calories)

Foods To Eat

Familiar (tested in training), well-tolerated (easily digestible), and enjoyable (to encourage eating) carbohydrate-dense foods are best: they provide the quickest and most efficient source of energy and are rapidly digested.

Foods To Avoid

  • Fatty foods, such as many popular breakfast foods (bacon, sausage and cheese). The reason: they slow emptying of stomach, which may make your child feel sluggish and heavy.
  • High-fiber foods, especially bran. They can cause stomach cramps and the need for a bathroom break during exercise;
  • Gas-forming foods, such as beans and onions.
  • Extremely salty foods (bacon and sausage) that can cause your child to retain fluids and feel bloated.
  • Untested foods or fluids because they could result in severe indigestion and impaired performance.

What To Drink

  • Sports drinks. For fluid guidelines, click here.
  • Commercially formulated liquid meals (Gatorpro or Sustacal etc.). Their fluid and carbohydrate content make them a desirable meal choice before competition or during day-long competitions (swim and track meets, tennis, volleyball and wrestling tournaments).
  • Homemade liquid meals (mix 1% nonfat milk, fruit and nonfat dry milk powder - or "instant breakfast" powders - in a blender; for variety add cereal, yogurt, and vanilla or chocolate flavoring; add sugar or honey for additional sweetness and carbohydrate.

What Not To Drink

  • Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, some sodas and energy drinks) that can cause agitation, nausea, muscle tremors, palpitations and headaches that can impair performance and, because caffeine is a diuretic, can contribute to dehydration and reduced endurance in hot weather.

Most recently updated March 30, 2012
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