Hubert Cormier

By Hubert Cormier

February 7, 2017


What to Eat Before Participating in a Sporting Event

Article revised on 17 July 2017

Do you like short or long distance running, riding a bike or taking part in triathlons? You’re not a professional athlete but you’re not a casual athlete either, and you intend to take part in competitions or train to cover long distances? Here’s how you can optimize your diet to perform better.

Carbohydrates or protein, which one should you choose?

Protein is more popular and is often one of the focal points for an athlete. Consuming between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended. However, you may be surprised to learn that most people tend to consume insufficient amounts of carbohydrates. It’s true, above all, carbs give you the energy you need to keep fatigue at bay during training or competitions. In fact, carbs are the sole source of energy for the brain and essential for concentration. The recommended intake is 6 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day.

Glucose is the term often used when referring to the big sugar family. It’s a simple sugar that is produced from digesting carbs, and stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. It works just like fuel does for a car. The higher the intensity of the physical activity, the more the carbs will produce energy. When it comes to sprinting, they will contribute to producing approximately 95% of the energy, and 70% for high-intensity endurance activities. That’s why it’s important to replenish your carb reserves before training or competitions.

How do can you maximize your performance before competitions?

If you expect to be involved in an activity that will take 90 minutes or more (half-marathon, for example), carbs should make up the bulk of your calories that day. They should make up 60% of your diet and provide you with between 7 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day.

Where do you get carbohydrates?

Grain products (pasta, couscous, rice, cereal, oatmeal, bread, etc.), dairy products (milk, chocolate milk, yogurt), 100% natural juices, fresh fruits and dried fruits all contain plenty of carbs. Find out exactly how much on the nutrition labels of packaged foods.

Here’s what a typical menu would look like before training for a person weighing 60 kilograms:

Example of menuCarbohydrate quantity
4 hours before activity (4 grams/kg; 240 grams)
1 and a half bagel85 grams
3 tablespoons (45 ml) strawberry jam31 grams
2 cups (500 ml) chocolate milk 67 grams
1 and a half banana 41 grams
1 Medjool date 18 grams
Total242 grams
1 hour before activity (1 gram/kg; 65 grams)
2 fig cookies23 grams
½ cup (125 ml) plain yogurt 6 grams
3 tablespoons (45 ml) maple syrup40 grams
Total 69 grams

*Data obtained from the Canadian Nutrient File (Bagel, plain [with onion, poppy seed and/or sesame seed], toasted, food code #3672; Jam type spread, Double Fruit, food code #6281; Banana, raw, food code #1704; Milk, fluid, chocolate, partly skimmed, 1 % M.F., food code #4711; Cookie, fig bar, food code #3823; Yogourt, fruit flavoured, low fat, with added omega-3 from flax [0.5-1.9 % M.F.)], food code #6958; Sweets, syrups, maple, bulk, food code #4326)

Interesting question: Are all carbs made equal?

Fruits are loaded with carbs plus they provide you with plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre. However, apricots and figs have a glycemic index of 35 and it climbs to 80 for dates. This index classifies foods on a scale of 100 based on their sugar content. The greater the glycemic index, the more quickly you’ll see a spike in your blood sugar level. To perform well, you must always have access to carbs, ideally in a form that can be absorbed quickly! So which dried fruit will you choose before you train next time? Dates are a good choice among the dried fruits available on the market. Some short distance or marathon runners prepare cookies made with a date-based paste that they eat before running.

In closing, remember that what you eat has a major impact on your athletic performance. To optimize performance, plan your meals just like you plan your training. For a detailed plan, contact a sports nutritionist or a kinesiologist.

Happy running!

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