Pre-competition Nutrition

February 23, 2010

Your diet before a competition will have a big impact on your performance, and could provide you with that winning edge.

The week before:

During the week before a competition, your two main aims are:

  1. To fill your muscle and liver glycogen stores so that you compete with a ‘full’ fuel supply.
  2. To keep well hydrated.

Your preparation will be dictated by the kind of event that you are competing in, the importance of the event and how frequently you compete.

Endurance events lasting more than 90 minutes:

If you are competing in and endurance event lasting longer than 90 minutes you may benefit from carbohydrate loading. You should generally consume a moderate carbohydrate diet (5-7g/kg body weight/day) for the first three days (this should be less than you are used to eating), followed by a high carbohydrate intake (8-10 g/kg body weight/day) for the final 3 days. Use table 1.1 as a guide to the amount of carbohydrate you should be eating during the pre-competition week. Your last hard training session should be completed one week before your competition. Then taper your training during the final week so that you perform only very light exercise and rest the day prior to your competition.

Table 1.1                           Recommended carbohydrate intake for athletes of different body weights
 Bodyweight (kg)                                               Daily carbohydrate intake Daily carbohydrate intake equivalent
                                       equivalent to 7-8 g/kg             to 8-10 g/kg body weight
                                               body weight                         
65                                              455-520g           520-650g  
70                                              490-560g           560-700g  
75                                              525-600g           600-750g  
80                                              560-640g           640-800g  
90                                              595-680g           680-850g  
95                                              630-720g           720-900g  
100                                              665-760g           760-950g  
105                                              700-800g           800-1000g  
110                                              735-840g           840-1050g  



  • Make sure you are fully hydrated after training. Check your hydration status by monitoring the frequency, volume, and colour of your urine during the pre-competition week.
  • Avoid any new or untried foods or food combinations during the pre competition week.
  • If you will be travelling or staying away from home, be prepared to take food with you. Try to find out beforehand what type of food will be available at the event venue and predict any nutritional shortfalls.


Try to eat 6 smaller meals a day, avoid gaps longer than 3 hours, and base all your meals on low GI foods. Use the sample eating plans in table 2.1 as a basis for developing your own plan during the pre competition week. While they provide the requirements for carbohydrate prior to competition, they are low in fat and protein and are not ideal for the rest of the season.

Table 2.1                            Recommended carbohydrate intake for athletes of different body weights
  Breakfast         Breakfast      
1 large bowl (85g) breakfast cereal   4 thick slices toast with honey    
200ml skimmed milk       1 glass (200ml) fruit juice    
2 tbsp (60g) raisins       1 banana        
1 glass (200ml) fruit juice       Morning snack      
  Moring Snack       2 scotch pancakes      
1 banana sandwich (2 slices bread, 1 banana   2 apples        
  Lunch           Lunch        
1 large jacket potato (300g)     1 large bowl (125g uncooked weight) rice  
3 tbsp (90g) sweet corn and 1 tbsp (50g)   salad with 60g turkey or 125g beans and vegetables
   tuna or cottage cheese     2 slices bread      
2 pieces of fresh fruit       2 pieces of fruit      
1 carton low-fat fromage frais              
            Pre-workout snack    
  Pre-workout snack     2 bananas      
1 energy bar         Workout      
  Workout       1L sports drink      
1L sports drink         Post-workout snack    
  Post-workout snack     2 cereal bars      
1 serving of a meal replacement product   1 carton (500ml) flavoured milk    
  Dinner           Dinner        
1 bowl (85g) uncooked weight) pasta   2 large (2x 300g) jacket potatoes  
125g stir-fried vegetables     1 carton (115g0 cottage cheese or fromage frais
60g stir-fried chicken or tofu     Broccoli or other vegetable    
2 slices of bread and butter     1 piece fresh fruit      
1 large bowl (200g) fruit salad              
  Snack           Snack        
2 slices of toast with honey     1 carton (200g) low-fat rice pudding  
1 carton low-fat yogurt              




The day before:

The day before your competition your main aims are:

  1. To top up muscle glycogen levels
  2. To ensure you are well hydrated

Continue eating meals high in carbohydrate that have a low GI throughout the day and drinking plenty of fluids (mainly water). To maximise muscle glycogen replenishment, perform only very light exercise or rest completely. Do not skip your evening meal, even if you experience pre-competition nerves, as this is an important time for topping up muscle glycogen. However, stick to familiar and simple foods, avoid fatty or oily foods and avoid alcohol, as it is a diuretic.

What should I eat if I get nervous before competition?

Most athletes get pre-competition nerves and this can reduce you appetite and result in problems such as nausea, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. If you find it difficult to eat solid foods during this time, consume liquid meals such as meal replacement products (protein-carbohydrate sports supplements), sport drinks, milkshakes, yogurt drinks, and fruit smoothies. Try smooth, semi liquid foods such as pureed fruit (e.g. mashed banana, apple and apricot puree), yogurt, porridge, custard and rice pudding. Bland foods such as semolina, mashed potato, or porridge made from cornmeal or ground rice may agree with your digestive system better. To reduce problems, avoid high in fibre foods such as bran cereals, dried fruit and pulses. You may wish to avoid vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and broccoli). Caffeine can cause anxiety and problems such as diarrhoea when combined with nerves. In essence, avoid anything that is new or unfamiliar. The golden rule with pre-competition eating is stick with tried and tested foods, which you know agree with you.

On the Day:

On the day of your competition, your aims are to:

  1. Top up liver glycogen stores following the overnight fast.
  2. Maintain blood sugar levels
  3. Keep hunger at bay
  4. Keep well hydrated

Plan to have your main pre-competition meal 2-4 hours before the event. This will allow enough time for your stomach to empty sufficiently and for blood sugar and insulin levels to normalise. It will also top up liver glycogen levels. Nervousness can slow down your digestion rate so if you have pre-competition nerves you may need to leave a little longer than usual between eating and competing. The actual timing of your pre-competition meal and the quantity of food eaten depends on the individual despite the fact that studies recommend consuming 200-300g carbohydrate during the 4 hours prior to exercise. Pre-competition nerves often slow down digestion so you may find 200-300g carbohydrate too much.

The key is to find out what works for you and stick with it! For example, if you are competing in the morning, you may need to get up a little earlier to eat your pre-competition breakfast. If your event is at 10.00am, have your breakfast at 7.00am.  Some athletes skip breakfast, preferring to feel light when they compete, however, it’s not a good strategy to compete on an empty stomach, particularly if your event lasts longer than 1 hour, or you will be competing in a number of heats. Low liver glycogen and blood sugar levels may reduce your endurance and result in early fatigue. Liver glycogen is necessary and important for maintaining blood sugar levels and supplying fuel to the exercising muscles when muscle glycogen is depleted. If you are competing in the afternoon, have a substantial breakfast and schedule lunch 2-4 hours before the competition. If you are competing in the evening, eat your meals at 3 hour intervals during the day, again, scheduling your last meal approximately 2-4 hours before competition.

What should I eat on the day of my competition?

Your pre-competition meal should be:

  • Based on low GI carbohydrates
  • Low in fat
  • Low in protein
  • Low or moderate in fibre
  • Not too bulky or filling
  • Not salty or spicy
  • Enjoyable and familiar
  • Easy to digest
  • Include a drink – approximately 500ml 2 hours before the event.


Pre-competition meals:

Pre-competition breakfast (2-4 hours before event)

  • Breakfast cereal or porridge with low fat milk and fresh fruit
  • Toast or bread with jam/honey; low fat yogurt
  • English muffins with honey
  • Meal replacement shake

Pre-competition lunches: (2-4 hours before event)

  • Sandwiches or rolls with tuna, cottage cheese or chicken; fresh fruit
  • Pasta or rice with tomato-based sauce; fresh fruit
  • Baked potato with low fat filling; fresh fruit

Pre-competition snacks (1 hour before event)

  • Smoothie
  • Yogurt drink
  • Fresh fruit
  • Tinned fruit
  • Meal replacement or energy bar
  • Sports drink
  • Dried apricots
  • Low-fat fruit yogurt
  • Rice pudding
  • Mini or scotch pancakes


Should I eat or drink during my competition?

If you are competing for more than about 60 minutes, you may find that extra carbohydrate will help delay fatigue and maintain your performance, particularly in the latter stages. Depending on your exercise intensity and duration, aim to take 30-60g carbohydrate/hour. Start consuming the food or drink after about 30 minutes and continue at regular intervals, as it takes approximately 30 minutes for digestion and absorption. If your glycogen stores are low at the start of the event (which hopefully they are not!), then consuming an additional carbohydrate during the event will have a fairly immediate effect on your performance. Any carbohydrate with high or moderate GI would be suitable but you may find liquids easier to consume than solids. Isotonic sports drinks or carbohydrate drinks (glucose polymer) drinks are popular because they serve to replenish fluid losses and prevent dehydration as well as supplying carbohydrate. Sports drinks are also great because they taste good! This also encourages athletes to be hydrated and take in more fluid than they most likely would if they were consuming water.

If you are competing in certain events such as cycling, sailing, distance canoeing or running, you may be able to take solid foods with you or arrange pick-up points. Suitable foods include, energy bars, dried-fruit bars, cereal bars, bananas, breakfast bars, or raisins. If you are competing in matches or tournaments (e.g. tennis, football), take suitable snacks and drinks for the intervals and position them close by. Make use of every available opportunity to take in fluid to ensure hydration.

Table 3.1               Foods suitable to eat between heats or immediately after events
 Sports drinks            
Meal replacement shake          
Breakfast cereal            
Meal replacement bars or energy bars        
Fruit bars              
Cereal or breakfast bars          
Sandwiches or rolls filled with honey/jam or bananas      
Oatmeal biscuits, fig rolls          
Homemade muffins and bars          
Rice cakes or low-fat crackers with banana or jam      
Yogurt drink            
(accompany solid foods with sufficient water to replace fluid losses)  


If you are competing for more than 60 minutes, avoid or delay dehydration by drinking 125-250ml every 10-20 minutes during exercise. Clearly, the more you sweat, the more you need to drink. However, do not be guided by thirst as this is not a good indicator of hydration. When you are thirsty you are already dehydrated! Studies have shown that you can maintain optimal performance if you can replace at least 80% of your sweat loss during exercise or keep within 1% of your body weight.

What should I eat after competition?

You’ve done the hard work now it’s time to re fuel your body and assist it in the recovery process. So after your competition, your immediate aims are to replenish glycogen stores and fluid losses. If you are competing the following day or within the next few days, your post-event food intake is crucial. Again, choose foods with a moderate or high GI to ensure rapid refuelling, and aim for 1g carbohydrate/kg body weight during the 2 hour post exercise period. Any of the foods listed in table 3.1 above would be suitable. Drink at least 500ml fluid immediately after competing and continue drinking at regular intervals to replace fluid losses.

Your immediate post event food should be followed by a carbohydrate-rich meal approximately 2 hours later. Suitable post-event meals include pasta dishes, noodle dishes, thick-base pizzas (with vegetable toppings), and baked potatoes. Avoid rich or fatty meals (e.g. oily curries, chips, burgers)  as these will delay refuelling and can make you feel bloated after competing. Don’t forget to drink plenty of rehydrating fluid before embarking on that celebratory alcoholic drink!

Table 4.1                                                  Summary of key points      
          Timing              Aims   Food and drink recommendations         Examples
 The week before 1. Fill muscle glycogen Taper training   Pasta with fish or beans
    stores   7-8 g/kg body weight/day for 3 days Rice with chicken or tofu
    2. Maintain hydration before event   Jacket potatoes with tuna
        Low GI meals   or cottage cheese
        Monitor fluid intake and urine    
The night before 1. Top up muscle glycogen High carbohydrate meal (low GI) Pasta dish with tomato
    2. Maintain hydration Plenty of fluid   based sauce
        Moderate-low fibre   Rice dishes
        Low fat        
        Familiar foods      
2-4 hours before 1. Top up liver glycogen Low GI meals   Cereal and low-fat milk
    2. Maintain hydration High carbohydrate, low fat, low protein Bread, toast,
    3. Prevent hunger Easily digestible   sandwiches, rolls
        400-600ml fluid   Potato with tuna or cottage
1 hour before 1. Maintain blood sugar 1g carbohydrate/kg bodyweight Sports drink
    2. Maintain hydration Easy to digest   Smoothie  
              Energy or meal
              replacement bar
              Dried apricots
15-30 minutes 1. Maintain hydration Up to 150ml fluid   Water  
 before             Sports drink
During events lasting 1. Maintain blood sugar 30-60g carbohydrate/hour Sports drinks
more than 60 min 2. Offset fluid losses High or moderate GI   Glucose polymer drinks
        150-350ml fluid every 15-20 min Energy bars with water
Between heats or 1. Replenish muscle and  1 g/kg body weight within 2 hours Sports drinks
events   liver glycogen High GI carbohydrate   Meal replacement products
    2. Replace fluid 500ml fluid immediately after Rice cakes, energy
        Continue fluids   bars, rolls  
Post-competition 1. Replenish muscle and 1 g/kg body weight within 2 hours Sports drinks
    liver glycogen High GI carbohydrate   Energy bars with water
    2. Replace fluid 500ml fluid immediately after Pasta dishes
        Continue fluids   Rice dishes


Hope you find the information yourself. For more great information read Anita Bean’s book “The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. I recommend it to any athlete who is serious about getting the most out of their training and competition.