Eating and drinking during competition?

Although the half-time break is brief, it is the only opportunity for nutrition during play. Players with a high workload (e.g. midfielders) will benefit most from consuming a carbohydrate snack during the break as they tend to have greatest requirements for carbohydrate and fluid during the game. Chopped fruit or muesli bars can be quick, easy to eat options. Players should also sip on water at half time to help prevent dehydration. Sports drink may also be useful as it provides both fluid and carbohydrate.

Recovery

Recovery is particularly important if there is more than one training session in a day or matches are less than 1-2 days apart. It is important to replenish fuel stores with carbohydrate-rich foods after training and games as well as include lean protein to help muscle tissue repair and growth.

Eating before competition

The main pre-game meal should be eaten 2-4 hours prior to the start of a match. It should be carbohydrate based and to avoid stomach discomfort, foods low in fibre and fat may be preferred. Options may include pasta with tomato based sauce, sandwich with light fillings, rice based dish. A light, carbohydrate snack (e.g. fruit, yoghurt, cereal bar, toast (with spread) in the 1-2 hours leading up to a match can help provide a final “top up” of fuel stores.

Refuelling

In the immediate post exercise period, athletes are encourages to consume a carbohydrate rich meal that provides at least 1g carbohydrates per kg body weight within the first hour of finishing a training session or competition. This is important, as during this time rates of glycogen synthesis are greatest. This is of particular importance if the next training session is within 8 hours. If the training session is close to the next snack or meal time this would be part of the recovery process. The type of food chosen would take into consideration the individual athlete’s daily carbohydrate and energy requirements, gastric comfort and food availability.

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Rehydration

A fluid deficit incurred during training or competition session has the potential to impact negatively on the performance of an athlete during subsequent training or competition sessions. Athletes should aim to consume 125-150% of the estimated fuel losses within the next 4-6 hours after the finish of their training session. The addition of sodium to a drink or with the food taken as part of recovery will reduce urinary losses and preserve thirst therefore enhancing fluid balance. The type of fluid used needs to take into consideration the length of time until next session, the degree of fluid deficit, taste preferences, daily energy requirements and other recovery goals.

Muscle repair and building

Both prolonged and high intensity exercise cause a substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During the recovery phase there is decreased catabolism and a gradual increase in the anabolic processes of muscle tissue. Early intake of a source protein in the first hour after exercise promotes the increase in protein resynthesis. The quantity of protein needed to maximise this adaptation to exercise is 15-25g of high quality protein. If carbohydrate is added to the post exercise meal or snack, this will aid adaptation by decreasing the amount of muscle protein breakdown.

Immune system

The immune system is suppressed by intensive training. This may place athletes at increased susceptibility to infectious illness at this time. Evidence indicates the most promising nutritional immune protectors include adequate carbohydrate before, during and after high intensity exercise. Other nutrients that have been proposed as immune protectors include Vitamin C and E, glutamine and zinc.