LC Health: Sports Nutrition for Competition


Sports Nutrition For Competition

-Written by Stephanie Nunes, RD

Studies have shown that having a fueling and hydration plan for competition can improve performance along with proper training

Day before competition:


Eat high Carbohydrate meals the day and night before to fuel your muscles. The meal composition should be: 2/3 carbohydrate (bread, bagels, pasta, rice, tortillas, potatoes, cereal, fruits, juices, vegetables, yogurt, and milk) and 1/3 protein (lean red meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, cheese, soy products, beans, nuts/nut butters, and seeds). Fried or fatty foods will not fuel your muscles or enhance performance.


Pasta with red sauce, rice bowls, baked potatoes with lean meat and veggies, Chinese food with rice, bean and cheese burritos, waffles and peanut butter (yes it is ok to have breakfast food at night!), thick crust pizza with veggies/Canadian bacon, fruit or juice with meals or during the day, lean meat sandwich.


Make sure you are drinking water, juices and sports drinks throughout the day to stay hydrated. Your pee should look like lemonade, NOT apple juice!

Day of competition Breakfast:


Refuel your body to replace the energy it used while you slept. Breakfast also helps you think better. Once again, the breakfast should be high carbohydrate, low fat, small amount of protein (depending on tolerance and time of event). If your event is 2 -3 hours or more after breakfast, this should be a substantial breakfast.


Frozen waffles with peanut butter and fruit, large bowl of cereal with milk and banana, fruit or yogurt smoothie and a piece of toast, granola bar or energy bar, peanut butter sandwich and juice, oatmeal, bagel/egg/cheese sandwich, yogurt mixed with cereal and fruit, etc. If you find you are unable to eat a large breakfast at one time, eat half and then the rest the next hour or so.

What if I am too nervous to eat?

Studies have shown that getting "something" in can improve performance. Anxiety can affect gastric emptying and cause stomach distress, so choose foods that are liquid or semi-liquid vs. solid food. Examples: Yogurt, Gel or Gu, honey, applesauce, banana, pudding, sports drink, or liquid supplement like ensure or boost (chilled if possible).

What if my event is early in the morning, and I really don't have time to eat breakfast?

Have your breakfast as a late night snack the night before. Example: bowl of cereal at night. The day of your event, wake up and drink 8-16 oz sports drink, try a packet of Gu or gel washed down with water, or drink a glass of juice. Aim for 100 calories if you can.


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Give your body carbohydrates to maximize blood sugar and glycogen stores, get rid of hunger feelings, and provide a psychological edge to help you think clearly. The challenge is deciding what foods you can tolerate and when. The foods at this time should be high carbohydrate, low-fat, low-fiber, moderate protein.

General Rule of Thumb:

  • Meals 3-4 hours before competition - Lean meat sandwiches/pretzels/fruit, tortilla wrap with low-fat cheese and ham/baked chips/ juice, broth based soup with noodles or rice/crackers, cold pasta salad/string cheese/sports drink, peanut butter sandwich/banana/crackers.
  • Snacks 1-2 hours before competition - Bagels, toast, yogurt, graham crackers, dry cereal, pretzels, trail mix, fig newtons, energy bars, animal crackers, rice cakes, canned or fresh fruits, juice, oatmeal cookies, etc. **TIP: If you are a heavy sweater and/or have 2 competitions in one day, I would recommend more salty snacks like pretzels, low fat crackers, or broth based soups to help retain fluids and maintain good hydration status.
  • The closer to competition, rely more on liquids and small snacks - Gel, sport beans, pudding, juice, sports drinks, honey, etc.

What is "Nutrition Conditioning"?!?!

Training your gut by eating the same meals and snacks in training that will be used in competition.

Hydration Guidelines:

Are fluids really that important? Yes!

Being only slightly dehydrated can decrease muscle strength, speed, stamina, energy, cognitive process, and increase risk of injury.

Pre-Event Hydration:

  • Drink 16 oz sports drink 2 hours before race (produce a light-colored, but not clear urine)
  • Drink 8-16 oz sports drink 15 minutes before event

After Event Hydration:

  • Drink 16-24 oz sports drink

Why are sports drinks better than just plain water for training and competition?

They are formulated to taste better than water which encourages re-hydration, provides carbohydrates for muscle glycogen, and the sodium helps the body retain more fluids.

Fueling between events:

  • If there is more than 2 hours between competitions, choose both Carbohydrate and Protein. Ideas: Lean meat sandwich, non-fat yogurt with cereal, tortilla wrap or pita sandwich with a piece of fruit, peanut butter sandwich and juice, bagel/low-fat cream cheese with a fruit smoothie, pasta salad, rice bowl, leftover high carbohydrate dinner if tolerated.
  • If there is less than 2 hours between competitions, choose mostly Carbohydrate. Ideas: Low-fat crackers, high carbohydrate energy bars, fig newtons, smoothies, juices, bagels, dry cereal, yogurt, animal/graham crackers, toast, pretzels, vanilla wafers, fruit leather or fruit roll-ups, bananas, meal replacement drinks (i.e. boost, ensure, carnation instant breakfast), English muffins, dried fruit trail mix, sports drink, etc.

Fueling after event(s):


Refuel and re-hydrate within 30 minutes after event. The goal is to restore muscle glycogen, repair muscle damage, and replace fluid and electrolytes. This 30 minute window of opportunity helps to maximize recovery and enable you to bounce back for future training and events.


  • Fluids - replace 24 oz for every pound lost during event. Including sodium in the recovery plan is beneficial.
  • Carbohydrates - .5 grams per pound of body weight within 30 minutes.
  • Protein - Aim for 10-20 grams of protein within 30 minutes.

Ideas for quick foods to eat within 30 minutes:

  • 24 oz sports drink + bagel + peanut butter
  • Sports bar + sports drink
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Bowl of cereal with dried fruit and nuts + fluids
  • Leftover sandwich + juice + water
  • Yogurt + bagel + water or sports drink
  • Protein/carbohydrate repletiondrink or meal replacement drink
  • Fruit + thick crust cheese/veggie pizza + water

What if I don't feel like eating right after my event?

Focus on liquid products. Low-fat chocolate milk is a GREAT replacement drink for the crucial 30 minute time frame!

Traveling bag:


Plan ahead for meals, snacks and fluids. Buy a lunch box or insulated bag that can keep food chilled and pack your familiar foods the night before your meet. Consider freezing a bottle of water or sports drink to put in lunch box to keep foods chilled.

Grocery List:

  • Juice boxes
  • dried fruit
  • sports bars
  • sports drink
  • fig newtons
  • Trail mix
  • raisin boxes
  • sandwiches
  • fruit roll up
  • pretzels
  • string cheese
  • bagels
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • fruit
  • gel/GU
  • pita bread
  • dried cereal
  • NF milk
  • pasta salad
  • noodles/rice
  • potato
  • yogurt
  • fruit cups
  • Eng muffin
  • baked chips
  • nuts
  • pita chips
  • granola bar
  • inst oatmeal
  • peanut butter
  • water bottles

Tips for eating out on the road:

  • Choose single burgers instead of "monster burgers" with bacon and cheese.
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef instead of chicken salad or salami. Pile on the veggies!
  • Grilled chicken sandwiches or salads instead of fried chicken.
  • Grilled meat or grilled fish instead of fried.
  • Pasta dishes with lots of pasta and red sauce instead of pasta with cream sauces.
  • Stir-fried vegetables and steamed white rice instead of dishes with a lot of meat or fried egg rolls.
  • Waffles, pancakes, grits, scrambled eggs, or grilled ham, instead of bacon, sausage, or biscuits.
  • Pizza with thick crust (wheat is good too!), vegetables, and Canadian bacon, instead of a pepperoni, sausage, or "meat lover's" pizza.

"Fuel The Machine And See The Results!"

Stephanie Nunes is a Registered Dietitian and runner residing in San Luis Obispo, California. Her private practice is "Rock Solid Nutrition" and she provides individual counseling, on-line counseling, lectures or presentations for specific groups, and nutrition related articles. If you would like to contact Stephanie for any of these services, her e-mail address is