Precompetition Meal: Myth or Miraculous?

As a Chiropractic Sports Physician the discussion of what you should eat before you compete has come up several times.  With each conversation my attempt to answer that question has been somewhat ambiguous.  I prefer to be as clear and direct as possible when advising patients in regards to their health and performance, but in some cases it’s not possible.  This happens to be one of those cases.

The precompetition meal is often thought of as one of the most important things you can do to enhance your performance (Myth).  Although your precompetition meal can affect your performance, we know that the foods you eat every day to support your training do far more to enhance your performance than the foods you eat right before you compete.  Your performance will be based nutritionally on what you have consumed over the past few days more than from the meal you eat just before competing. With that in mind when deciding what to eat for your precompetition meal the focus should be on eating a meal that will help you stay hydrated, top off your carbohydrate stores, provide blood glucose, and leave you feeling comfortable.

Again, a little ambiguous, but it really depends on what your sport or event is.  If it is more of an endurance sport event then you should top off the energy stores in your body with a high-carbohydrate low fat meal about 2 hours before you compete.  For power and sprint athletes the primary purpose of the precompetition meal is to provide some of the fluid and energy needed to stay comfortable and hydrated during the event.  That might mean a high-carbohydrate low fat meal or you might feel more comfortable going into an event after the more traditional meat and potatoes meal.

So the focus when choosing your precompetition meal shouldn’t be in figuring out how you can turn into a superhuman, but rather on what you can eat to support your current performance level and energy needs for your specific event.  I hope dispelling the precompetition meal myth doesn’t destroy any of your dreams or aspiration of performing better.  The most important thing you should focus on when choosing your precompetition meal is to select foods you can eat that will not have a negative effect on your performance.  Nausea, cramps, gas, or diarrhea can be devastating to your performance.  The precompetition meal should not be an experiment.  Eat foods you like and eat the same kind of foods you eat all the time.

Nutrition is a crucial element when it comes to your performance, but it needs to be a consistent part of your training and preparation.  To get the most out of your training and to optimize your performance, work with someone that can give you specific nutritional advice for your specific sport and event.  Nutrition can make the difference between a competitor and a champion.  It just can’t do it in the meal you eat before you compete.