What is the goal?
The main aim of pre-competition nutrition is to provide you with enough energy to fuel your full performance along with enough liquids to avoid dehydration, cramping, and fatigue.
The most important rule when it comes to nutrition pre-competition is that you must stick to foods that your body is familiar with. You cannot start eating foods that you are not used too.
There is no real one answer to the best foods that you can eat pre-competition. There are better choices for sure, but if you aren't prepared to have great nutrition year round then changing it to healthy foods on the day of the competition will simply be too little too late. That's why the best foods that you can eat pre-competition are those that you eat every day!
That said, there are some more specific guidelines that I would like to share with you so that you can see exactly how I would structure nutrition around a competition so that you can fine-tune your own approach to something that works best for you.
First of all, if the competition is important to you, understand and accept that nerves will come. If you suffer from nerves then you will most likely not be hungry before the competition and so fighting this and shoving food down won’t help your body because you won’t be able to digest food properly. Instead, it will make you feel heavy and possibly like you want to throw up.
Instead of forcing yourself to eat, prepare in the days leading up to the competition by fuelling up. This should be helped by the fact that your training should taper off meaning you should naturally burn fewer calories and therefore have more to store for competition fuel. On competition day, try to eat a whole foods breakfast. As your nerves heighten throughout the day, opt for easy to digest foods such as liquids and fruits. As soon as you’ve finished dancing and your nerves clear up, no doubt you will feel hungry again and can follow up with more whole foods.
I have provided you with a breakdown below of meal timings and recommended food sources below.
2-3 Hours Before Competition
Focus on eating a bigger whole foods based meal with plenty of fluids and a pinch of salt. A dancers plate should be half full of starchy carbohydrates (like potatoes/rice) a portion of lean protein and a portion of vegetables
Grilled chicken, turkey or fish
1 cup of high fiber rice/pasta
2 cups of vegetables
2 eggs, bacon
1-2 slices of wholemeal bread
1-2 Hours Before Competition
Depending on how nervous you are will depend on what you can eat here, if you are nervous and are closer to the 1 hour before mark, then you may prefer to opt for a blended meal or snack. If you have your nerves under control and are closer to the 2-hour mark then you should always try to opt for another smaller but starchy meal of whole foods.
1. Wholemeal sandwich with chicken or turkey
2. White rice, chicken, and vegetables
3. Dried fruit and nuts
60 Minutes or Less
At this point, you want to do the opposite of everything above. Whilst starchy foods and vegetables are good further out you want to focus on foods that digest easily and will be absorbed rapidly and therefore anything eaten in this time must be quick digesting and also a big focus on hydration. Fruits are an excellent choice here because of the energy and water content but you can also sip on a sports drink or a blended drink.
Fruits / Handful of jellies
Bagel / pretzels
In Between Rounds
Depending on how long you have between rounds will depend on the best options here. If you have up-to 2 hours at a competition such as the Worlds, then you will simply choose whole foods made up of starchy carbohydrates and a lean protein source. If you have 15 minutes or less then you will be looking to get hydrated and some sugar in fast. you can do this in the form of fruits or a handful of jellies. Once you know how long you have you can refer to the timings list above and work out what is best for you within those options.
Water is extremely necessary for performance, especially as the body will try to flush itself out when nervous. If a dancer looses more than 2% water from sweat, reaction time is slowed, strength is lowered, injury and cramping risk increase. 2% of water from sweat seems like a lot but the average person loses 2.4 pounds of water from sweat per hour. s its extremely important to stay hydrated throughout the day and that you add a pinch of salt to the water.
Sports drinks can be beneficial to your performance but they are not always necessary if you have eaten correctly. you may not need both great nutrition and sports drinks, but ifs you struggle to eat whole foods then sports drinks are a great way to still peak your energy levels.
What Foods Should I Avoid?
You want to avoid high-fat foods such as chips, fries, burgers, and candy. Foods that are high in fat will take longer to digest, longer to be absorbed and may cause stomach irritation. You also will need to avoid carbonated beverages and sodas during the morning of the competition.
Allow at least 3-4 hrs digestion time for a large meal,
2-3 for a smaller meal,
1-2 for blended or liquid meals,
< 1hr for a small snack.
Stick to these main points in the summary and you cannot go wrong. All you will need to do from here is adjust portion sizes and calories to personalize this plan towards your own digestion and metabolism, however, the main guidelines will always stay the same.
(p.s we also have a full podcast on this subject live on iTunes. Just click here and select episode 14.)
The Reaching New Heights Team
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