Nutrition is established as an important factor for sports performance, as it favors recovery and energy obtainment for the practice of exercise. Thus, food must be considered throughout an athlete’s entire day, and not only in the pre- and post-exercise periods. However, we must consider these moments as “key moments” for the athlete. Throughout this article, we’ll explore the role of the best pre-workout meals, and we’ll dive into the nutritional strategies that we can use during this period.
In the pre-workout or competition period, the nutrient of biggest interest is carbohydrates – this can be explained by the fact that carbohydrates are the main source of energy for an athlete. Carbohydrates are present in cereals, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and fruit (for example). At this stage, the main goal is to fill the muscle glycogen reserves. Carbohydrate recommendations for this period are of 1 to 4 g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass.
Approximately 3 to 4 hours before competition, a high-carbohydrate meal can be had, including slower-absorbing, high-fiber carbohydrates such as oatmeal or whole grain bread. If the athlete does not have the opportunity to have the main meal 4 hours before the competition, it can be consumed approximately 2 hours before exercise – however, at this stage, slower absorbing, fiber-rich carbohydrates are no longer recommended , since its consumption can cause gastrointestinal discomfort during the event. Simpler fruit and cereals (such as corn-flakes) may be a better option, depending on the athlete’s tolerance and preferences. In turn, from 1 hour before the competition and until warm-up, athletes should consume foods rich in fast-absorbing carbohydrates, such as sports gels, energy bars, sports drinks or fruit.
Regarding protein, the recommendations correspond to 0.25 to 0.40 g per kg of body mass in the pre-exercise period. Within the main meal before competition (2 to 4 hours before), the intake of lean protein sources such as poultry, eggs, fish, soy, tofu, non-fat dairy or soy drink is recommended. On the other hand, the intake of foods high in fat in the pre-competition period must be reduced, in order to avoid the occurrence of gastrointestinal discomfort during exercise.
Another factor that should be considered during this period is fluid intake, in order to ensure that athletes start the race hydrated. It is recommended to consume 5 to 7 ml of fluids per kg of body mass at least 4 hours before the sporting event. If the athlete does not urinate, or if the urine is very dark, an additional 3 to 5 ml of fluid should be ingested per kg of body weight (2 hours before the sporting event).
Depending on the sport, taking ergogenic supplements such as caffeine, nitrates or sodium bicarbonate may also make sense. However, this counseling must be carried out by a nutritionist specialized in sports nutrition, and adapted to the sport and the athlete.
There are recommendations for this phase that are independent of the nutrients to be consumed, and that correspond to the individuality of the athletes. Thus, for the best pre-workout meals, it is important that athletes consume familiar foods (foods they are used to consume in the pre-workout period), and that individual preferences and tolerance are respected.
The content of this article does not constitute medical advice by a registered healthcare professional. Please consult a qualified sports nutritionist before starting any new diet, exercise or training programme.