What should I eat for optimal performance?

What should I eat before I exercise and during exercise for optimal performance? Pre-Game and Half Time Snacks

Ok. So to properly answer this question we need to break down our answer into time zones. You may hear me refer to “kick off” or “half time”, this is because I am looking at this from a team sports background, rugby to be specific. These snacks can relate to any sport or exercise though, just read “kick off” as before exercise and “half time” as during exercise.

We will start with three hours before kick-off and work our way forward.

3 hours prior to kick off

It’s important to stress that realistically, for someone who wants to be at the top of the game, you should be thinking carefully about what you eat for a lot longer than just three hours before your match or event but if you’re this close already then here are the headlines.

The reason we eat our last meal three hours before is to allow enough time for digestion before we start. This final meal should consist of whole grain carbohydrates. These can be absorbed and used as energy way quicker than fats or proteins can so are ideal to stock up on before a game. Brown pasta, brown rice, brown bread or sweet potatoes are all examples of good foods to consume in this final meal. It’s also very important to drink lots of water a couple of hours before kick-off.

It’s worth noting that at this time you should stay away from foods high in sugar and high in fats.

90 – 60 mins before kick off

At this time it’s still important that we don’t allow our blood sugar levels to fluctuate too much. Steer clear of sports drinks and sugary foods. A lot of fruits are very high in sugar and shouldn’t be consumed at this stage; however some banana or pineapple can provide a good snack as they don’t give as much of a sugar rush. You could also try some nuts or, if you still have access to them, a small amount of oats with some honey. Obviously the last option isn’t always the easiest in a changing room full of people so the banana and some mixed nuts tend to be the first choice for convenience.

5-10 minutes before kick off

Many people chose not to have anything more until half time but some people need a bit of a kick start at this point so a sports drink with electrolytes and high carbs is ok to have at this stage if you feel you need something. A few sips of water could be enough here though, it’s important to remember that you should keep well hydrated throughout your warm up and during your match or exercise.

Half Time Snacks

During any exercise your energy stores will become depleted and your body will begin to tire. Your half time nutrition can be the most important of them all.  For many years people swore by oranges and most still do, as they provide some sugar and quick absorbing carbohydrates to give you a boost however in recent years some researchers has claimed that for all the benefits of the half time orange, it’s only a quick fix and will not sustain you properly for the rest of your exercise.

There are lots of different ways to go with this, Manchester United used to eat fig roles at half time as they are packed with simple and complex carbs to provide a consistent amount of energy throughout the rest of your match.

Many nutritionists claim sugary sweets like wine gums, jelly babies or harribo are the way to go. Although these give the same short term effects as oranges, when mixed with a sports drink providing carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish stores they can be a winning combination.

I hope this has helped with your matchday/training day/event meal planning. The pre-game ideas are widely shared amongst the sports nutrition community so are a good place to start. The half time ideas are widely debated so if you have any comments I’d love to hear them.

In my opinion, the way to go at half is water, sports drink, jelly babies. I have formed this opinion from the amount of different half time combinations I’ve tried over the last fifteen years and the one which has suited me the best.

The main thing to remember when planning your pre match diet is that everyone is different. What works for one may not be the same for another and although we can provide a guideline, specifics will always be up for discussion and will change from person to person.

Happy eating and exercising!

Nick McPherson
Top Local Trainer Author
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