Practice Makes Perfect

People always ask me how long they should eat before their run, bike or swim.  The answer is typically 3-4 hours depending on what and how much you have eaten.  You want the meal to leave you not hungry or with undigested food in your stomach.  The why behind the recommendation is based on food science. 

  • Solids take 1-4 hours to pass through the stomach, whereas most liquids empty in 20 minutes.    
  • All food is made up of carbohydrate, protein and fat.  Fat takes longer to digest than protein, and carbohydrates digest the fastest.  Fiber a type of carbohydrate, slows everything down in the stomach by absorbing water and delaying the rate at which food leaves the stomach.  Excessive fiber may also cause cramping in the intestinal tract. 

When you exercise blood is channeled away from the stomach to working muscles and organs.  Anything remaining in the stomach when exercise intensity rises becomes very uncomfortable.   The ideal pregame meal should be rich in carbohydrate, moderate in protein with relatively little fat and fiber.  Good choices include at least 2 cups of fluid along with a bagel, pancakes, fruited low-fat muffins, cereal (not bran), sandwich, medium-sized pasta or rice based meal.  A poor selection would be a fast food hamburger and fries, or wedge of meat lover’s pizza due to the high fat content, not to mention the poor nutritional density.  An athlete’s individual tolerance needs to be taken into consideration too.  While some might enjoy scrambled eggs, pancakes and juice 3-4 hours prior to competition, others may do better with a sports bar or a liquid meal 2 hours prior.  Experimenting with new foods and beverages during practice perfects the pregame meal for competition.

Categories: Sports Nutrition


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