By Jill Lane
What should my student athlete eat pregame?” This is one of the questions I get asked the most! My answer? If you are depending on the pregame meal to prepare for competition, you may be behind.
Start Pregame Prep Sooner
On the Fueling Champions campus, pregame prep (or prep for any important tournament, meet or training) starts 48 hours out. Why? Because that can be how long it takes an under-hydrated (75% of student athlete population), under-fueled and under-recovered student athlete to ‘catch up’ and be ready to compete at an optimal level.
IF YOU ARE ONLY RELYING ON THE PREGAME MEAL, YOU MAY BE TOO LATE.
Pregame prep is not just about the pregame meal – hydration and adequate rest play critical roles in performance (as we’ve covered in past articles); widen your approach to optimally support health and enhance performance.
Pregame prep comes from adequate:
Have your student athlete set reminders on their phone to shut down sooner on days leading up to competition.
When student athletes in a well-known study lost 2 hours of sleep, every performance metric monitored got worse, and when they were allowed to ‘sleep extended’ (get more sleep) all the metrics got better. The data has been clear for more than a decade: Borrowing from sleep to study, game or scroll social media negatively impacts performance both mentally and physically. Prioritize sleep to enhance recovery and prepare for competition. Have your student athlete set reminders on their phone to shut down sooner on days leading up to competition.
Have your athlete carry a refillable stainless steel or glass water bottle to keep track of how much water he/she is drinking.
Data has shown that up to 75% of student athletes arrive to training and competition already dehydrated! Most of the time these same athletes have been at school all day dehydrated. Dehydration is defined as a 2% loss in body weight. Even mild dehydration can negatively impact mental and physical performance. Prioritize hydration throughout the days leading up to competition. Have your athlete carry a refillable stainless steel or glass water bottle to keep track of how much water he/she is drinking.
The primary source of hydration throughout the day should be from water as well as fruits and vegetables. Use urine color to help determine hydration status at home and while traveling. Urine should resemble light/bright yellow, like lemonade or lighter.
High Water Content Foods:
- Bell Peppers
If an athlete is eating enough day-to-day, the pregame meal becomes less important to performance because their fuel/energy tanks are being addressed adequately on a regular basis. We focus on this at Fueling Champions, making sure that the day-to-day needs of an athlete are met, which makes the pregame meal just a ‘top off’.
The makeup of a pregame meal depends on length of competition, intensity of performance and oftentimes most important, what the athlete can tolerate without getting a stomachache, cramps, gas or other digestive issues. The pregame meal is often best eaten 2-3 hours before game time. Student athletes are often warming up in the hour before competition, meaning they are using some of the stored energy from their pregame meal. If a sports drink is desired, a few gulps in the minutes post warm-up, before the game starts, can level off their fuel for game time.
The research shows that most pre-competition or training meals ideally should be dominant in the primary fuel source to the body, carbohydrates. I also like to include some amount of protein (how much again depends on how close to game time it is as well as the other variables we covered above, could be 0.5-1.0 grams of protein per pound body weight depending on meal timing). This is one meal where an athlete may get to pass on eating a load of high fiber veggies (you’re welcome!). Think of easy to digest, high water content veggies like cucumber possibly, again digestive tolerance wins out here. How much carbohydrate depends on body weight as well as duration and intensity of sport: research shows pregame meals could be as much as 0.85-1.5 grams (or more) carbohydrate per pound body weight.
Recovery starts as soon as competition/training ends. Think of your student athlete as a dry sponge ready to soak up and refill the energy they just spent and the hydration they just lost. The sooner you can get in a meal with the primary macronutrient food groups, the sooner recovery kicks off.
Eating as soon as possible, and tolerated, helps to augment recovery and refill energy stores (called glycogen).
In the hours after competition food is being used to replace energy that was spent on performance. Depending on duration and intensity, this can take 2 or more meals to accomplish. Eating as soon as possible, and tolerated, helps to augment recovery and refill energy stores (called glycogen). This is especially important when competing or training multiple times per day or on back-to-back days.
If your athlete is a heavy or salty sweater, electrolyte replenishment should accompany the water replacement
Replacing what was lost from sweat takes time and should be spaced out. Research suggested that for every pound of weight lost during competition and training, approximately 16 ounces fluid (ideally water) should be consumed in the hours after to replace it. If your athlete is a heavy or salty sweater, electrolyte replenishment should accompany the water replacement. Consider sodium and potassium rich foods like plantain chips (banana’s savory cousin with added salt) or an electrolyte replacement powder (I like Hydration Complex by Designs for Sport).
True recovery is multi-dimensional. Eat, sleep and hydrate to optimize growth and recovery.
Recovery includes food, sleep and hydration. We focus so much on modalities like foam rolling, massage, ice/heat therapy and/or stretching that we overlook the most important needs of refueling and rehydration – true recovery is multi-dimensional. Eat, sleep and hydrate to optimize growth and recovery.
In summary, be consistent and have realistic expectations. We shouldn’t expect a pregame meal to magically make up for a week’s worth of under fueling and not enough rest or hydration. If your student athlete is eating well (enough of the right foods) most of the time, the pregame meal matters less. The overall goal of fueling should be focused on eating enough of the right foods daily to support optimal growth, development and performance to avoid RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport) and low energy availability. You can read more about the two in “Sports Nutrition: Supporting Performance, Growth and Wellness in Student Athletes,” in the Winter 2020 issue at mvpparent.com. For optimal pregame prep, focus on the trifecta of sleep, hydration and fuel for consistent performance.
To keep your athlete well (AKA healthy), it’s important to understand RED-S: Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. Simply put, symptoms of RED-S strike when not enough food is eaten to match the demands of training, recovery, growth, and maturation. It is why the number one sports nutrition basic to master is to eat enough food throughout the day. The peculiar thing about how we understand RED-S right now is that the body will use the incoming energy (food) to fuel training and competition first, leaving recovery, growth, and maturation with whatever is left. What if ‘whatever is left’ isn’t enough? Below is list of potential symptoms of low energy intake or under-recovery.
Beware RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport)
Does Your Athlete Regularly Experience:
- Persistent fatigue
- Disturbed digestive health
- Recurrent illness and/or injury
- Slow healing
- Sudden disinterest in sport
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Poor growth and or slow maturation
Contact me for a list of the references used to support this article.
Jill Lane, mom of 3, founder of Fueling Champions® has been teaching nutrition and exercise science to pro-athletes, sports families, student athletes, coaches and health care practitioners for 20 years. Some of her current and past clients include coaches and players from the NFL, NBA, and MLB. As a former All-American, Olympic Development Team Member and Division I Scholarship Collegiate athlete herself, Jill has a clear understanding of what competitive athletes require to achieve and sustain their personal best.
Her mission to support the next generation of student athlete leaders (as well as those who lead them on a daily basis) comes full circle in Fueling Champions®.
Join us at www.FuelingChampions.org + Instagram @TeamFuelingChampions
We shouldn’t expect a pregame meal to magically make up for a week’s worth of under fueling and not enough rest or hydration. If your student athlete is eating well most of the time, the pregame meal matters less.