What should you eat before sports?

It is a well-known fact that food and sports performances are complementary. Having good sports and exercise nutrition can make all the difference to your overall sports performance. 

That said, what are the best foods to eat before playing sports? 

Should you eat a full meal or just a snack? 

MonClubSportif is here to answer all your questions:

  • Eat a full meal or a snack before a sports activity?

  • How long before a sports activity should you eat?

  • What kind of food should you eat before sports?

Eat a full meal or a snack before a sports activity?

A question that comes up frequently in sports and exercise nutrition and that creates several debates: should you eat a full meal, or a simple snack before your sports activity? 

The reality is that there is no quick answer to that question. There are a number of variables that come into play and influence the answer to this complicated question. Whether it’s your personal food preferences, your routine, your digestive system, etc.

However, a general rule of thumb to follow is that the heavier your food choice, the longer you need to eat before your sports activity in order to allow yourself to digest it properly.

There are some general guidelines to follow on the number of hours to eat before a sporting event, they are discussed below!

How long before a sports activity should you eat?

The number of hours you should eat before a sports activity depends on your sports diet. As mentioned above, you can eat a full meal or snack before your physical activity.

Professional dietitian Alyssa Fontaine suggests the following timelines:

  • Normal «Meal»

If you want to eat a full meal (lots of carbohydrates and protein) with 500 to 800 calories before your activity, It is recommended to consume it 3 to 4 hours before your activity to give you the time to accumulate energy from the meal and to digest it.

  • Moderate snack

If you want to eat a moderate snack of about 200 to 500 calories, you should eat it between 2 and 3 hours before your physical activity. Being obviously lighter than a meal, your snack will be easier to digest and does not have to be eaten more than 3 hours before your activity.

However, as mentioned before, it is not recommended to eat this kind of snack directly before your activity.  

  • Small snack

If you have a small snack of 100 to 200 calories, the best time to consume it is about 1 hour before your event. This rather light snack will give you the necessary energy without cluttering you during your activity, considering that it is consumed in this interval.

  • A bite

A mini snack or “bite” of 50 and 100 calories can be eaten very close to your activity. To be more precise, you should consume this type of food 30 minutes before your physical activity.

This kind of snack will give you a little energy «boost» that is well needed before your workout while being easy to digest!

What kind of food should you eat before sports?

Obviously, some foods will help you more than others to perform better. Indeed, foods with a lot of carbohydrates will give you the energy needed for your sports activity while being easy to digest. 

Some foods such as pasta, bread, fruit, energy bars, etc. are perfect to energize you in the right way to perform well. 

It is also best to take into account the glycemic index of the foods you eat before your sports activity. As Diabetes Canada explains,

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale that ranks high-carbohydrate foods based on their effect on increasing blood sugar levels relative to a reference food.

If your sports activity is more about endurance, foods with a low glycemic index are preferable. If you have a high-intensity level activity, you should lean towards foods with a high glycemic index.

These foods have more carbohydrates and therefore more energy to offer you for your activity.

Here are some examples of foods with a low, medium, or high GI, to help you balance your food consumption:

Examples of foods belonging to each glycemic index category

Another important thing to keep in mind is hydration. It is important to hydrate yourself well before your event. 

Drink water regularly a few hours before your workout or game. Also, drink 1 to 2 glasses of water between 30 minutes and 1 hour before your physical or sports activity. 

As you can certainly understand, your sports performance is directly related to your diet. So if you want to improve your performance, think about adjusting your diet before your workouts or games.

You will feel more energetic, and who knows, you may discover a sports food routine that greatly suits you!


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