By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, LLC
In the last three posts we’ve covered water, sports drinks, and food choices. The essential theme in all of those was to choose the least processed and most natural foods and beverages you can find. For the best athletic performance, when you eat or drink is very important. For the food or drink to provide energy and nutrients for your body they need to be absorbed properly in the stomach and digestive tract. When taken at the right times you’ll have your body in the best possible condition, but taken too soon before a practice or game and you’ll end up with low energy, poor performance, stomach cramps, nausea, or worse. Let’s go through some specific scenarios you’re likely to face. And just to be clear, I have no financial relationship with any of the products I mention in this post. I’ve found them to be easily available at most supermarkets and I like what’s in the products.
The very early morning game
In almost any tournament or league setting you’re likely to find yourself with the dreaded 8 a.m. (or earlier!) start time once in a while. Some of the keys for these games are to prepare the night before the game and to at least have a small snack the morning of the game.
- Eat well the night before the game. Include large portions of grains or pasta, vegetables and small to medium portions of beans, chicken, fish, or lean meat.
- Have a snack before bedtime. Good choices would include fruit, yogurt, cheese, an oatmeal cookie, or fruit smoothie.
- Take a “mini-breakfast” an hour to hour and a half before game start time. This is really important and often skipped. You can choose a bagel, muffin, scone, or toast; yogurt and/or piece of fruit; and have a big glass of water, Vitamin Water®, sports drink, or Propel®.
Regular game times
Have a main meal with enough time before the practice or game to digest the food.
- Have the main meal about two hours before start time.
- You can have a small snack about an hour before start time if you’re hungry, similar to the “mini-breakfast” I outline above.
- Have water, flavored water, or sports drink until about 30 minutes before start time, as I wrote in the earlier posts.
After the game, and preparing for a second game the same day in a tournament
The most efficient time to begin refueling after a game is ideally within the first 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.
- If you have 3 hours or more between games, choose a regular main meal such as the one I’ve outlined above for the night before an early morning game. Keep processed foods to an absolute minimum, and leave yourself at least 2 hours from the end of your meal to the start of game time.
- If you have less than 2 hours between games, choose simple foods such as the “mini-breakfast”.
- If you have a very short time, perhaps less than an hour, choose fluids only. A sports drink is a good choice. I like the Gatorade Recover 03® sports drink because it contains protein in addition to carbohydrates and electrolytes, and does a good job of replacing what was lost during exercise as well as promoting recovery for the next event.
When you eat or drink during a competition can be the critical difference in fitness during the next game that will give you an edge on your opponents.