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Neither stuffing nor starving will give an athlete 'the edge'


Athletes of every description want to know what pre-event meal will give them "the edge."

For most athletes, a light meal, three to four hours before starting time is the best bet.

Maximize your big event energy output this way:

* Don't stuff.

Daily workouts and a high carbohydrate training diet have stocked your muscles with energy for your big event.

Overeating just before game time will not increase your energy stores. Lugging around a huge meal may, however, keep your circulation focused on digestion instead of sports, leaving you sluggish, or even crampy.

About 500 calories-worth of familiar, easy-to-digest foods should enough to get all but the biggest athletes comfortably to starting time.

* Don't starve.

If the very thought of food makes you queasy, listen to your body, and don't eat.

But if you can eat, do. Walking around with an empty stomach till starting time will squander energy reserves better spent on your contest.

Choose familiar, easy-to-digest foods low in fat and fiber, so your stomach will be empty again by starting time.

Have some fruit, like a banana, peach, or plum.

Have some low-fat milk or yogurt.

Have some pancakes, cereal or bagels.

Or try a light sandwich of lean meat, chicken, or tuna.

Still hungry? Have some vanilla wafers or pretzels.

Or try a liquid meal like Ensure, SustaCal or Nutrament.

* Don't try anything new.

New foods or supplements on a jittery stomach can spell disaster for an athlete.

Try new things during training. Diarrhea or cramps can then occur in private.

* Don't have anything but water for 30 minutes before starting time.

High carbohydrate foods such as fruit, juice, sweets, soft drinks and sports drinks during the last 30 minutes before your event can trigger an insulin response that will leave you listless when you should leap into action.

Wait until 15 minutes into the event, then use a sports drink to prolong your staying power.

* Drink, drink, drink.

hTC Drinking enough fluids is the athlete's greatest concern. Start drinking water early in the day, even if you're not thirsty. (But do remember the "Don't stuff" rule.) Continue drinking throughout your event.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

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