What to Eat to Compete

Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D.
Director- Sports Medicine Nutrition
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health System

Pre-Event Eating

Important Considerations
One good meal does not correct a week of crappy eating!
Body needs optimal fuel for optimal performance
Pre-event nutrition “tops” off the body’s muscle and liver glycogen stores
Provides fuel for sports lasting longer than 1 hour
Prevents hunger, which can be distracting in a competition situation
Needs to the at the right time, and the right combination of food(s)
Always need to try new foods and meal times in a training situation

Fluid Needs

  • 1 hour before: 20 ounces of fluid
  • 20-40 ounces per hour
  • 6-8 gulps between events
  • Preferably sports drink instead of water to provide a consistent source of fuel

The goal is foods that empty more rapidly from the gastrointestinal tract and do not cause bloatin

Foods to stay away from

  • Caffeine
  • Cabbage
  • Family foods
  • High fiber cereal
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Fatty foods
  • Juices
  • High fiber cereal
  • Fried meats
  • Dried beans

Ideally, the pre-exercise meal should be 3 hours before competition or workout.

If the meal is 4-5 hours before, you may need to eat something 1 hour before

Like a granola bar, or cereal bar, or half of a peanut butter sandwich, or a bagel with honey

The closer the time is to activity, the smaller the meal should be.

Carbohydrate Loading

  • Best bet is to increase carbohydrate in the 3 days before competition, adding a little more at every meal
  • An additional serving of cereal at breakfast, an extra slice of bread at lunch, another spoonful of pasta at dinner

Meal Guidelines

4 hours before

  • A turkey sandwich, pretzels and frozen yogurt
  • Scrambled eggs, a bagel or muffin and milk
  • Spaghetti with sauce, milk, frozen yogurt and fruit

2-3 hours before

  • Cereal with milk
  • Bagel with peanut butter or cheese
  • Waffles/pancakes with syrup
  • Sports bar

1 hour before

  • Granola bar
  • Yogurt
  • Cereal bar
  • Crackers
  • A concentrated sports beverage


Goal is to have small, easily digestible foods around throughout the day

  • Dry cereal
  • Cereal bars
  • Cut up fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Trail mix
  • Sports drinks
  • Gelatin
  • Goldfish
  • Chex mix
  • Pretzels
  • Packets of honey
  • Strawberry preserves

At the end of the day, need to eat BEFORE showering. One of the following:

Carbohydrate Choices

  • 50 grams ASAP post exercise
  • 2 cups of sweetened cereal
  • 4 oz bagel with 1 Tablespoon jelly
  • 2 cups of pretzels or Chex Mix
  • A package of peanut butter crackers and a banana
  • 2 cereal bars or granola bars