Timing of a Meal Before Playing a Sport
In general, the closer you are to the time of exercise, the less you should eat. Waiting at least 1 hour after a small meal is a good rule of thumb, but it can take up to a few hours depending on how much food was consumed. If it is less than 1 hour before going out to play, a liquid meal (protein smoothie) is a better idea because your stomach is able to digest it faster than a solid meal.
What to Eat
Consume a meal that consists of fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, and a small amount of fat. This type of meal will provide enough fuel to keep energy levels up during the activity, but will be absorbed slowly enough that you won’t become hungry while exercising. Some examples include:
- Smoothie containing protein powder, low- fat yogurt and fresh fruit
- Eggs with whole wheat toast and fresh fruit
- A whole grain cereal with low-fat milk and a side of fruit
- Peanut butter on a whole grain bread and a banana
- Lean chicken breast served with brown rice and steamed vegetables
Do NOT eat foods with a high fat content. Fatty foods cause blood flow to the stomach to increase. This will lead to cramping during exercise. It will also take much longer to digest and stay in the stomach for a long time. Some examples include:
- French fries or potato chips
- Doughnuts and candy bars
- Meat such as a hamburger, steak, or ribs
Staying well hydrated with plenty of water is obviously important, but there are other alternative beverages being promoted for athletes these days. Advertisements lead us to believe that sports and energy drinks will help improve performance, but is that true?
- Sports drinks: Should be used if you are exercising intensely for more than 1 hour. After 60 to 90 minutes of intense exercise, the sports drinks will replenish electrolytes (sodium & potassium) that are lost in sweat.
- Energy drinks: They contain very high levels of caffeine and give you a quick energy boost, but why is this bad during exercise? Caffeine causes your kidneys to remove extra fluid from your body, resulting in more rapid dehydration. These drinks don’t provide the body with any necessary nutrients or fluids you need during exercise.