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Pre-Fueling Pitfalls for the Athlete

Katie Breazeale, MS, RD, LD

If you’re getting some type of fuel in before competition or training does it matter what it is you're eating or drinking?  Absolutely! There is a level of strategy when it comes to fueling before competition/training.  

Pitfall 1: Timing.  Timing is everything when it comes to your pre-fueling plan.  If you have a small snack 3-4 hours before, you didn’t get enough food and you’ve already used that fuel.  If you eat too much 1-2 hours beforehand you may have overeaten and be feeling sluggish and miserable.

The less time you have before you competition/training the less food you need.  Check out our article on Carbs and Fueling for Success for more ideas on what to eat and when. 

Pitfall 2: What you’re eating. You got something, anything in for that fuel source, but it may have been the wrong food.  Maybe you chose a protein powder mixed with water. While protein is great to start muscle protein synthesis, it is not providing you fuel to use.  Your pre-fueling snack is best with carbs to provide an energy source you can tap into.

Pre-fueling snack ideas:

Pitfall 3: Skipping it all together. This happens more often than not.  Early morning competition allows for very little time for eating, concerns about an upset stomach, and nerves causing an anxious stomach are frequent reasons fueling may be skipped.  By skipping you’re missing out on fueling and setting yourself up for decreased performance, concentration, and intensity. 

Did you know for cases of nausea, cold and high protein foods are great ways to help settle the stomach.  If GI and time are not on your side, consider fluids as your one stop shop. Sports drinks, a cold smoothie, or juice are easy to digest and provide instant energy for you. You can drink them while driving or riding a bus to a competition. 

Pitfall 4: Relying on high sugary snacks. I know we tell you to eat carbs, which do break down into sugar, but high sugar processed foods are not what we had in mind.  These high sugar items like donuts, pastries, candy are not ideal because while they will provide instant energy and a spike in your blood sugar they also can contain higher levels of fat and be harder to digest. Also that sugar spike has to come down and without a little protein to help you’re going to plummet and feel bad. 

Pitfall 5: Hydration is a must. Drinking fluids frequently gets left out of the plan, but needs to be there.  Dehydration can affect your performance the same way not eating can, and can have worse symptoms than not eating. A 2% change from dehydration can cause a 10% decrease in your performance.

Fluids to add to the plan: 

  • Water

  • Sports drinks

  • Low fat milks

  • Smoothies

  • 100% fruit or veggie juices. 

Creating your pre-fueling snack and plan takes some practice.  Try new ideas during practice and watch for signs that your performance is improving.  Maybe you’re experiencing a burst of energy you didn’t have before, you feel more energized during the whole practice, you’re not having cramps, or you’re noticing an ability to retain new plays and focus better. 

Check out the My Favorites  tab to see my Pre-Fueling favorites. 

Everyone is unique, if you want to personalize your pre-fueling plan, contact us! We work with all types of athletes and can help you find a plan that works best for your needs and goals. 

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